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Column 1212doctors all encouraged me to have the abortion and no one told me what could happen. I became very depressed and thought another child might help but as it turns out both my tubes were blocked as a result of that abortion. I think that women should be told that some people never get over an abortion."
A third said :
"The memory of my abortion nearly three years ago was until six months ago with me every day--destroying my life and eroding my marriage. My husband agreed to have another baby and now I am six months pregnant and we are both overjoyed."
In 1976 the Royal College of General Practitioners established a study in the Manchester unit to examine post-abortion trauma. Can the Minister tell us when the promise made in Committee that that report would be published will be honoured?
Abortion clearly has consequences for all involved. I have shown the consequences that it has for the child and for the women. In 1967, we were told that abortion would give women new rights. Clearly, it has not. In 1967, we were told it would reduce illegitimacy because it would mean that every child would be wanted, yet 15 per cent. of all births today are of illegitimate children. We were told that it would end child abuse. What nonsense that is. Hardly a day passes without an example of physical or sexual abuse of a child. Surely, the ultimate form of child abuse is taking the life of a child in the womb.
Miss Nicholson : I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to use the term "illegitimate". I am very pleased indeed that illegitimacy no longer exists. Children are born to one-parent families. There are no bars on children whether they are born of one-parent or two-parent families. I believe that that point must be made because it will help many people whose parents were not married when they were born.
Mr. Alton : The hon. Lady must accept that a child's prospects are far better if it is born inside marriage than outside marriage. I did not use the word "illegitimacy" in a legal sense, but simply to make the point about the way in which a child will be brought up and cared for.
Part of the trouble is that people get behind slogans but do not examine the details. They do not use words such as "child" or "baby". It is much easier for them to use phrases such as "pre-embryo", "product of conception" or euphemisms such as "foetus" or "zygote". We must look more deeply at the consequences of abortion for all involved and recognise it as a violent and degrading act that takes life and turns our doctors and nurses into destroyers rather than defenders of life. It is the counsel of despair. It is sheer defeatism. As a society, we must be able to do better than that. It is not enough merely to be anti-abortion, and I am not. We must be positively pro-life. We must look for radical alternatives that are based on decent human values, not on mere utility. We must consider adoption as a way of providing people with the chance of bringing up a child instead of encouraging the never-ending tide of abortion. We should seek more positive pro-life counselling. We should remove the fear of disability that people often try to engender. The amniocentesis test is used increasingly as the first part of a search and destroy mission. If we use a form of perfection test to decide who may or may not live, it will bring society to a sorry state.
Two hundred years ago in the House people challenged what was then regarded as the greatest contemporary evil
Column 1213--slavery. These days, the greatest contemporary evil is abortion. Just as in the 1970s the peace movement caught the imagination of the country, as did the green and the ecological movement in the 1980s, in the 1990s people from all sorts of backgrounds and from across the political spectrum will make the pro-life issue no longer a marginal or cranky issue that can be pushed to one side, but a subject central to debates in the House and in the country. We in the pro- life movement in the House and the other place will ensure that Parliament will not be allowed to run away from the debate. That is why I shall support the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who will introduce a Bill to lower the time limits, and I hope that the Duke of Norfolk's Bill on embryo experimentation will make progress in the other place.
Perhaps in 20 years' time another William Wilberforce will rise up and abortion will wither on the vine. Two hundred years ago, Wilberforce began his final assault on the slavery laws from the constituency of Maidstone. I hope that we can take comfort from his words--that the bravest of all are not those who win but those who take the first steps.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : I join the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) on his good fortune in the ballot and on choosing this pressing and moving subject for debate. With the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). I am one of the few hon. Members who have been involved in the debate on and the fight against the present abortion law from the time that his Bill reached its Committee stage in 1966. It became obvious to some of us that if the Bill reached the statute book it would be little more than a licence to print money for the shady end of the medical profession.
It gives me no satisfaction to say that all our predictions then and subsequently have proved to be mild compared with the reality. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough said that almost 3 million unborn children have been killed. The authors of the Abortion Act 1967 swore to Parliament and to the British public that they had no intention of leaving the door wide open to abortion on demand--I wish to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman in that respect--yet from the very day that the Act became law it has been abused constantly. One cliche after another has been used to pull the wool over people's eyes and to render respectable what in effect has been abortion on demand. We regularly hear hackneyed phrases such as "abortion on request" "every child a wanted child" and "a woman's right to choose". The first--"abortion on request"--is illegal. The second is hypocrisy of the worst order, especially because since 1967 child abuse has spiralled. Yet because of the wholesale slaughter that has been encouraged it has been impossible to meet the pleas of decent childless couples whose heart's desire is to adopt and care for children.
I wish the House to consider further the third slogan--"a woman's right to choose". It has become increasingly obvious that the last thing that abortionism inspires is choice. That applies even to the women themselves. There
Column 1214is no doubt that unborn children are not the only victims of abortion. Like the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, over the years I have received hundreds of letters--probably because of my known interest in the matter--from women who have had abortions and have regretted it or have suffered as a consequence. Women involved in this terrible procedure are victims of a deliberate and malicious campaign promoted by the moneymakers and those who have built their careers on an acceptance of killing unborn children--sometimes using them for experiments. It involves a conspiracy of silence and lies regarding the nature of the unborn child and the physical and psychological effects of abortion on the mother. I shall not repeat the arguments in detail because they were put to the House clearly and succinctly by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.
Mr. Steel : The right hon. Gentleman said that he has received letters from people who regret that they had abortions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)--he is still my hon. Friend despite our differences on this issue--read out some of them. But I hope that both will accept that some of us have received letters from women who were deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a legal and safe termination of pregnancy. We could all exchange emotive letters on the subject. None of us has ever denied that abortion is an unpleasant process.
Sir Bernard Braine : In 1966 and 1967 there was a need to revise the abortion law. There is no argument about that. My argument is that the 1967 Act has led to widespread abuse. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it led to so much abuse that Bills seeking to amend it were introduced in Parliament. The James White Bill which called for reform had a substantial majority, but he was bought off by a promise from the Government that they would set up a Select Committee. The Committee, of which I was a member and which had a distinguished Labour Chairman, met for two years and made recommendations, none of which was implemented by the Government. The Act has been open to abuse from the beginning. I do not malign the right hon. Gentleman's intentions. He has said many times that it was not his intention to introduce legislation that would lead to abortion on demand.
All over the world doctors are speaking out about post-abortion syndrome and about the many women who suffer from psychological trauma, sometimes for the rest of their lives. In Britain most of the information comes not from doctors, as it should, but from moving letters that women write to newspapers, magazines and hon. Members. It is an appalling indictment of some members of the medical profession. It has been the women who have undergone abortions--not the doctors--who have come together to support and counsel their sisters suffering from the trauma of which they have an intimate knowledge through their own painful experiences.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : While clearly some women may regret having had an abortion, is the right hon. Gentleman saying to such women, "I will help you to make up your mind, because I shall make you a criminal if you decide to have an abortion"?
Column 1215being looked at, I hope, with charity, understanding and sympathy from many different points of view. I am not, therefore, railing against abortions in those circumstances where the mother's life is at risk or where the mother's health and that of her other children may be gravely impaired. One can think of other circumstances, which are all laid down in the Act. All I am saying is that there has been a steady resistance to any kind of reform to ensure that the Act is not abused.
A second indictment of some doctors is that for years they have insisted that the physical after-effects of abortion are minimal. In debate after debate in the House, we have had letters and statements read from doctors who laughed at and scorned any claim regarding the possible dangers of abortion. Here in December 1988 we are faced with the development of the well advertised French abortifacient pill, RU486. We see doctors attacking the pro-life movement for opposing this obnoxious form of chemical warfare on unborn children. They justify this pill on the ground that it is so much safer for a woman than are abortion techniques, such as the suction method, which is so repellant that I did not intend to say anything about it. However, a description of it was given by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. For nearly two decades the same doctors have sworn that that method is safe. It is so repellant that I advise hon. Members who really care about the matter to find out what happens in abortion clinics and hospitals throughout the country.
We must ask whether RU486 is safe any more than the suction method has been safe. What long-term studies have been carried out into the possible effects of deliberately imbalancing the chemistry of a woman's body to ensure an early abortion? Furthermore, we know from statements of the makers of RU486 that it was intended ultimately for use by Third world women. With all the concern that we express in the House from time to time about the plight of the deprived and the poor in the Third world, they were no doubt expecting us to remain silent while women from poorer countries are used as their long-term guinea pigs.
However, one thing of which we can be sure is that those who advocate freedom of choice are bitterly opposed to informed choice. We know that they do not want women to be made aware of the dangers to themselves. We must also ask why they object so strongly when the public are shown scientific pictures on the development of the unborn child.
For example, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill will remember that during the campaign on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill we used the picture of a baby of 18 weeks gestation. In their fury, the pro-abortionists immediately launched a campaign claiming that the picture was a fraud because the baby was already dead. I had never heard such hypocrisy. The picture was from a medical text book used in nursing and medical schools throughout the world. The book sold more than 1 million copies in many different languages and is lauded in many countries because of the realistic manner in which it shows babies at different stages of development before birth. Pro-abortionists told us that the picture must be discounted because the photograph had been taken after the baby had died. They were frightened because women would realise, having seen that picture, that abortion involved the destruction of a human baby. By those
Column 1216standards, a woman may have the right to choose an abortion so long as she pays and is left in ignorance as to the full implications of the choice she has taken.
We heard recently of a medical secretary who was sacked because she refused to write a letter for an appointment for a woman having an abortion--
After the secretary was sacked, she appealed. However, according to the Law Lords, she had no right to object because she was not directly involved in the abortion and, therefore, was not covered by the conscience clause in the Abortion Act, for which we fought so hard through the Committee and Report stages of the original Bill. Why should anyone lose her job because she refused to write a letter which revolted her conscience? It is monstrous that a tribunal should have ruled that she had been properly dismissed for misconduct. Section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967 provides that no person should have to participate in any abortion to which they have a conscientious objection. Making arrangements for an abortion is participation. The law is clearly defective and is one more example of the way in which common sense has failed to prevail in respect of the workings of the 1967 Act.
We have also heard the case of a young hospital chaplain, who was sacked. I use the word "sacked" deliberately because pro-abortionists will claim that he was not sacked and his contract simply was not renewed. I served on the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill and in our third special report, published in July 1975, we recommended that no abortion should be carried out after 20 weeks in centres unless resuscitation equipment was available for live babies and staff trained in its use. A copy of that report is available in the Library. That recommendation was correctly accepted and embraced by the DHSS.
However, more than 13 years later, at the hospital about which the chaplain complained, a baby was aborted at 21 weeks and lived for three hours. The child was not given resuscitation at that hospital, and one of the excuses was that, although such equipment existed, it was not in the same building. In other words, the hospital--the Carlisle City hospital, referred to by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill--acted in breach of the requirements laid down by the DHSS. The fact that the child lived for so long showed that it was capable of being born alive, making the abortion an act in breach of the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929, which stipulates that abortion may not take place if the child is capable of being born alive.
I ask my hon. and learned Friend why there has still not been an inquest. Why was not the resuscitation equipment used in such circumstances? This case raises serious issues and there are questions to be answered.
On 9 February, The Times stated :
"The foetus, of a baby girl, was born in July 1987 in Carlisle City General Hospital after its mother had an abortion. It lay in a kidney dish for nearly three hours, allegedly gasping for breath and with a heartbeat of 80 beats a minute, and was then wrapped in a plastic bag and incinerated.
The doctor on duty apparently did not know what to do. One of the nurses present performed an unofficial baptism.
Column 1217The story came to light earlier this month when a Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Houghton, revealed that three nurses had come to him for advice.
Following correspondence with Mr. Alton, Mr. Ian Morton, coroner for North- east Cumbria, asked the police to investigate, and said yesterday that he intended to apply to the Home Office for an inquest. Home Office permission must be sought if there is no corpse and is usually a formality".
I repeat my question : why was there no inquest? Who stopped it? What was the reason for the cover-up? There was a cover-up, because the ground for abortion in this case was that the child would be handicapped. One must presume that the child would have been seriously handicapped, because that was the intention of the authors of the Act. However, the handicap from which the child was apparently suffering, Elhers syndrome, in no way threatens life. Some adults have that disability throughout their lives without being conscious of having it. It was an excuse for the abortion. Incidentally, the mother had been advised against the abortion by her general practitioner. She was never told the nature of her child's disability, nor that the baby was born alive.
The House is entitled to know why there was no inquest, the purpose of which would have been to establish not only the cause of death, but the circumstances surrounding it. It was a matter of public concern and interest. I have little doubt that, if the coroner had ruled that a wrong- doing had occurred, swift Government action would have resulted. Why was no inquest ordered? Why was it stopped? The Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill of which I was a member also stressed that the conscience clause in the Abortion Act needed strengthening mainly because of objections that the Committee had received from members of the nursing and medical professions who had been discriminated against because of their objections to abortions on social grounds. However, 13 years later, the nurses involved with the abortion at the Carlisle City general hospital were deeply upset by what happened, but terrified to speak out in case they were sacked or penalised. They were right to be terrified because, although nothing was done about the consultant gynaecologist or the registrar who induced the abortion, the chaplain, whose calling requires him to care and to speak the truth, was sacked. The rights of the innocent were thrown to the wind. Ever since 1975, Bills to amend the abortion law have had substantial majorities in this House. We also know from polls conducted in the country that there is a substantial majority in favour of such amending legislation. However, the procedures governing private Members' time are such that, on each occasion, the amending Bills have been talked out by a minority. I am not questioning the right of those hon. Members to do that under the existing procedures. That is a sterile argument. All hon. Members are entitled to their views.
My complaint is against the authorities of the House that have permitted procedures to obtain that blatantly frustrate the will of the majority. The authorities say that it is not a matter for the Government and that they do not provide extra time. What does that mean? It means that the substantive Act of 1967, which got on to the statute book only with Government help, is written in letters of stone. It will never be amended because time will never be found to do so. Such an abuse could continue. How much
Column 1218longer do we have to rail in the House against such wickedness before the Government take hold of the matter and act responsibly?
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Although my right hon. Friend says that the opponents of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill used the procedures correctly, the use of parliamentary procedures as delaying tactics suggests a failure in their argument. They were scared to let the matter go to a vote. That is the strength or weakness of their argument.
The House of Commons has many functions, and we seek to persuade one another. I am not impugning hon. Members who abuse our procedures. For many years I held the record for making the longest speech from the Back Benches since 1828. The Government of the day, a Labour Government, recognised that I was speaking in defence of a threatened community, the people of Canvey Island. The Government realised that something had to be done and they ordered inquiries to be conducted. The Health and Safety Executive carried out what I understand to be the only comprehensive safety survey of an entire community to be conducted. Three Canvey Island safety reports have been issued by the House as a consequence. I do not apologise for that speech and many people felt that I struck a blow for my constituency, but that is not for me to say.
I used the procedures of the House. I cannot agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) has said. If hon. Members have strong objections they should use our procedures in the way in which they think fit.
Those opponents of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, however, ignore the fact that the will of the majority in this House should, in the end, prevail. They ignore the fact that there is an overwhelming majority of people who want reform--they may not wish to go the whole way with us in the pro-life movement, but they want reform.
Mr. Steel : No. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) quoted the votes on Second Reading, he forgot that he had promised the House that there would be amendments in Committee.
Sir Bernard Braine : I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman, with his considerable parliamentary experience, should put up such a phoney argument. The Bill called for an 18-week limitation and he knows perfectly well that the House gave it a substantial majority vote. He also knows that the only votes taken that morning in the limited time available gave us a substantial majority. He
Column 1219does not know what the House would agree to. All he knows is that it threw out an amendment for a 26-week limit.
We took a careful sounding among hon. Members and we believe that there was a majority in favour of a 20-week limitation.
Mr. Steel indicated dissent.
Sir Bernard Braine : We had that majority. I do not wish to speculate on that. The point is that the House was not given the opportunity to pronounce on the matter. That is my complaint. I do not wish to delay the House as other hon. Members wish to speak. People outside this place, however, cannot understand how we can permit this scandal to continue. It is high time that we resolved this matter once and for all by insisting that our procedures should facilitate, not block, the will of the majority. I believe that the Government have a clear duty to give that lead. I commend the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Slouth (Mr. Watts) to the House.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : I do not wish to detain the House too long because a number of other hon. Members wish to speak and we have already had three speeches that have each lasted about 30 minutes. Earlier this year we also had an opportunity to take part in a debate on abortion, embryonic research and the possibility of restrictive legislation preventing research into congenital handicap. On 4 February I spoke at some length and I do not see much point in repeating the arguments now.
When the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) spoke he said one thing that caused offence to Members on both sides of the House. He suggested that only those people who agree with his stance have regard to the needs of the mother and her children. I took offence at that statement and I intervened from a sedentary position to register my offence.
Mr. Alton : I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman interpreted my remark in that way. I would not suggest that he or any other hon. Member had no concern for the woman and the child. What I meant to say was : no concern for the woman and the unborn child.
Mr. Wigley : That is slightly different. The issue is whether there is a continuum of regard and responsibility and whether the unborn child, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, or perhaps even the most elementary cluster of cells 24 or 48 hours old, should have the same status in law and in our perception.
Mr. Steel : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), but I gave him notice that at 11 am I would raise a point of order again pursuant to that raised earlier by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Mr. Speaker said that there might be a statement at 11 am. There is no sign of one. Have you anything to tell us on the matter?
Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been widely reported in the media this morning that, following the grossly irresponsible statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Health about eggs, which has literally devastated the
Column 1220egg and poultry industry in Britain, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to be forced to introduce a scheme costing up to £40 million to compensate egg producers for their loss of income and to gas millions of healthy hens. The hon. Lady truly has the most expensive mouth in history and should resign.
We believe that the House should hear details of any compensation scheme first. I have asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House to make an urgent statement, but neither he nor the Under- Secretary is present. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, advise us whether we may have an assurance that the Minister will be present at 2.30 pm to tell us about the situation?
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I think that I can help the House and save time by dealing with these points of order. I have been informed that the Government will seek to make a statement to the House on Monday.
Mr. Steel : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support what was said by the Opposition spokesman. On the radio this morning we were led to believe that the scheme was in preparation and details of it were given. If we are not given a statement, which has to do with the conduct of a Minister, until Monday, and if we have to wait over the weekend while we read more details in the Sunday newspapers we are being treated with contempt. This is quite intolerable.
Mr. Cryer : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the House Press Association tapes, which are provided for hon. Members' information, there is a report which clearly implies that the Government will make a statement today about the details of the scheme, so we shall be presented with a fait accompli.
The massive damage done by the Under-Secretary of State for Health will give rise to a scheme whose details will be given in the press. I have no doubt that secret briefings are going on now--with two tape recorders running because these occasions are so important. We shall be left trailing after the Government, after they have made a statement and the press have had the information.
I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are concerned with the status of this Chamber and the accountability of the Government to Parliament. It is outrageous for the Government to ignore Parliament and to tell the press that they will issue a statement over the weekend, although the House is sitting this morning and Opposition Members are willing and able to listen to a statement and ask questions about it.
I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your influence with the Government to tell them that they are accountable. I know that you are not responsible for statements to the House ; but I also know that if you and Mr. Speaker intimate to the Government that you regard them as accountable to the House for the deprivation caused by, and the savage irresponsibility of, the Under-Secretary of State, they will reconsider.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the actions of the past 24 hours, it seems that the chickens of the Under-Secretary of State for Health are coming home to roost. The House should be the first to be able to question
Column 1221what looks like a massive amount of public expenditure which appears to have come from her mouth. We should have the statement before it is given to the Sunday press.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Before I take more points of order, I remind the House that we are taking time from the debate. It is private Members' time. All I sought to do earlier was to convey to the House the information that has been conveyed to Mr. Speaker by the Government. I cannot add to that.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Further to that point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is quite clear that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food heavily briefed the press yesterday and was willing to tell it about its proposals. The chief medical officer of the Department of Health appeared on almost every television and radio channel that would take him this morning to give a briefing.
We want to know why no Minister is here to answer to the House,. We do not believe undertakings that no statements will be made over the weekend. We want to know why the Minister apperently has to clear this with the bureaucrats in Brussels before he can sort out the mess made by his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)--but he is not willing to come to the House. This is a most important matter.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have conveyed to the House your understanding of the position. We should be grateful if you would convey to the Government our belief that it is unsatisfactory that the Minister is not prepared to tell the House what is happening. Perhaps he cannot positively say what has been agreed because he needs to clear it with Brussels if it involves extra money, but we are happy to listen to the interim position, which the people of this country and we are entitled to know. We do not want this leaked to the Sunday papers ; we are sick to death of that.
Mr. Mellor : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agree with you that the sooner we can return to the important matters for debate the better, but I hope that I shall be able to assist right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken.
As you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a statement will be made on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I understand the concern that has been expressed about details of any scheme, if scheme there be, being the subject of briefings that might then appear in the press. I certainly accept that Parliament should be the first to know of any such scheme and that the first knowledge of it should come from any statement on Monday.
That is why I undertake to the House on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that there will be no question of any press statement or briefing giving details of any of the matters that will be the subject of a statement to the House until that statement has been made. I give that undertaking in good faith, and I hope that those who raised the point in good faith will accept the spirit in which it is given.
Column 1222briefings have already been given. I do not believe that 10 British newspapers suddenly concocted a story about a compensation scheme. They were told by press officers or Ministers, or both.
We also want to know, if the writ against the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is proceeded with between now and Monday, whether we shall be obstructed by the sub judice rule from raising this matter. It is important that we be able to raise it untrammelled by anything, particularly the sub judice rule. We want that clarified, if not now, then at least by 2.30 pm.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : It is arrogant of the Government to tell us we shall have a statement on Monday. At 7.30 and at 8 o'clock this morning we heard on the radio that a scheme had been devised. The headline in today's Daily Mail was written based on information given not this morning but last night. The Government know about the scheme they are bringing in. They are arrogant to think that they can steamroller the Opposition, the House, the House rules and Mr. Speaker. They should make a statement here this morning to let hon. Members and the country know what is going on. Hundreds of people have been put out of work and there are hundreds of bankruptcies and impending bankruptcies. The Government say that they will leave it until Monday. That is just not on.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, undertake to convey to the Government the deep feelings of the House? We are again being presented with a fait accompli. We accept the good faith of the Minister of State, Department of Health in relation to any future briefings. However, the Government have already given briefings and the Sunday press will be full of them. Given the nature of this case, Monday's statement should be made not by the Minister, because it is about the personal responsibility of a junior Minister. We can imagine what would happen if a Labour local authority had cost the public purse so much. In that case a statement would have been made immediately to the House and there would be a surcharge. In this instance the House is being ignored. Is the Prime Minister afraid of dismissing a junior Minister?
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : We are in a somewhat unique situation because we have just had news that a writ is to be issued against a Minister. At the very least the Secretary of State for Health should be in the Chamber to tell us what the procedure will be. We already know that the blunder by the Under-Secretary of State for Health has cost £500,000 in advertising and will cost many millions more in a scheme to protect producers. Will the British taxpayer be placed in the absurd position of having to pay the legal protection costs of this loud-mouthed junior Minister?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : It has already been trailed by the press, as you probably know and have heard this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the junior Minister's mouth has already cost the British taxpayer £10 million. No statement will be made today and that means that over the weekend, as a result of more bankruptcies and further bailings out that will undoubtedly take place, the figure of £10 million will probably increase. The taxpayer needs a statement today to clear up the mess and
Column 1223to stop this financial seepage. We are constantly being told by the Prime Minister that taxpayers' money is sacrosanct and that there should be no subsidies, no bailing out.
We have already heard that £10 million is to be paid out to subsidise firms that have gone bankrupt or are likely to go bankrupt as a result of the junior Minister opening her big gob. It is high time that the Government had a message conveyed to them through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there should be a statement today to stop any further financial leakage. I am informed that briefings are now taking place with Bernard Ingham and other Government spokesmen and that half the press lobby has gone to them. If Bernard Ingham is doing the briefing, the Prime Minister should be brought to the House to answer the charges. Why is the Minister of State, Department of Health replying to a debate that should be answered by the Under-Secretary of State, who is in Liverpool with her mother and has been there for three days? What kind of Government do we have? There is a big financial scandal and the Prime Minister does not have the guts to sack the person who has caused it. Thousands of workers have been thrown on the scrap heap and Government spokesmen do not have the guts to explain to the House what is going on. It is time that that situation was altered.
Mr. Andrew MacKay : Further to these points of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could it be that some of this indignation is a shade frothy? If we had a statement today, would there not be general indignation in the House that on a sparsely attended day many hon. Members who have a particular interest in poultry farming are in their constituencies talking to people in the industry and are therefore unable to take part? There would have been genuine indignation, and that is why it is much more sensible to have the statement on Monday when those hon. Members can contribute.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have allowed a good run on these points of order, which are interrupting an important debate in private Members' time. I have given from the Chair the information that is available to Mr. Speaker, and the Minister of State, Department of Health has added his contribution. I suggest to the House that it is high time that we got back to the debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have called the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and shall call him again, but there is nothing that I can add from the Chair. These points of order are cutting into private Members' time.