Home Page

Column 157

Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There are two related aspects. I am concerned that the House of Commons was seriously misled this afternoon by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who raised a Dartford constituency matter during Education Questions without giving me notice of his intention to do so. He stated that the Dartford West secondary school for girls had been stripped of its playing fields. That issue was open for public consultation until 11 February, and no decision on it has yet been issued by the Department for Education. Will you require the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his statement and to apologise? Secondly, may I make you aware, Madam Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman visited that school, which is in my constituency, last Thursday and did not give me any intimation or message of his intention?

Madam Speaker: These are not points of order.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): I see nothing to withdraw.

Madam Speaker: That being the case--

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Order. Just a moment. Let me deal with one question at a time. Hon. Members are too anxious to be heard in the House. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) is telling me that there is an untruth in the allegation made here. If he would like to table an early-day motion or use the Order Paper, that is what he must do if the allegation made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is incorrect.

As I have often said in the House, when hon. Members visit another hon. Member's constituency, it is only right that they give him or her notice of doing so. That is a common courtesy and is the way in which we behave in the House. Hon. Members inform me when they come to my constituency, and they are very welcome, but they always let me know in advance when they are going to be there.

Mr. Foulkes: I apologise for rising too soon earlier, Madam Speaker. During the first two or three Parliaments that I was a Member of the House, statements were regularly made to the House after European Council meetings, whether they were meetings of ECOFIN or the Fisheries or Agriculture Councils. The Minister who had attended the meeting made a statement and was open to question. For the past few months--indeed, for the past few years--there have not been regular statements, which means that the Government are increasingly unaccountable to the House for their actions at European Council meetings.

For example, last week I know that Baroness Chalker--

Madam Speaker: Order. The House does not have time to listen to the hon. Gentleman's examples. I understand his point. He is asking for Government statements after various meetings have taken place. As the House knows, and as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, I have no authority to require a Minister to make a

Column 158

statement at the Dispatch Box. It is for the Leader of the House to determine when statements are made, and the matter can be put to him during Business Questions. The hon. Gentleman is often on his feet during Business Questions and I shall look for him on Thursday, should he care to put the matter to the Leader of the House--that is without commitment.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): Further to the earlier point of order relating to--

Madam Speaker: Order. There is no further point of order once I have dealt with a matter. We could go on for ever. If it is a new point of order, I shall listen to it.

Mr. Devlin: It is a separate matter, Madam Speaker. Is it not the convention of the House that, if an hon. Member intends to refer to another in a debate, he should let that hon. Member know? That was not the case last night, as you will see from column 82 of Hansard .

Madam Speaker: I have in my office a sheaf of statements that hon. Members can collect. I am weary of making statements about the way in which hon. Members should behave towards each other. I have made two or three such statements in the past six months. Hon. Members should know how to behave with common sense and courtesy, but, if they need reminding, let them come to my office, where I shall give them a file of the statements that I have made to the House.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you seen a report in today's Daily Mirror on the misnamed "Commissioner for the Protection of Trade Union Rights"? It appears that £1.9 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on 16 cases of trade union bashing. Has the Secretary of State for Employment, or even the Prime Minister, said that he intends to explain to the House that abuse of public money?

Madam Speaker: I have had no indication that any Minister is seeking to make a statement today on any matter.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am grateful for your having told us about the sheaf of statements in your office. What power do you have to act when hon. Members ignore your advice by not informing other hon. Members when they go to their constituencies, especially if they are going in an official capacity such as that of Front Bench spokesmen? It seems that your advice is being ignored despite your having warned us about this previously.

Madam Speaker: I expect hon. Members to behave with a degree of common sense. I am the servant of the House, and the House gives me authority to carry out various instructions. If the hon. Member would care to refer the matter to the Procedure Committee, the Committee may make a recommendation giving me some authority in these matters, and it might not be a bad idea if it did just that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Your rulings on such points of order are clearly of great importance because they set precedents. I hold many Labour party meetings around the country. Are you in effect saying that, if an hon.

Column 159

Member is going to hold a party political meeting in another hon. Member's constituency, he should give notice to that hon. Member about that fact?

Madam Speaker: I should have thought that that was pretty reasonable. Only this week I had a letter from a Member of the Government Bench, telling me that he is coming to my constituency for a political meeting. I doubt that his party will win the seat from me, but I said that I would be delighted to see him. I think that hon. Members should be informed, irrespective of what the visit is for.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Notwithstanding your point about courtesy, it could be a mistake to take the matter to the wrong conclusion. Members of Parliament do not have proprietorial rights over their

constituencies. We do not own our constituencies and there must be no barriers to prevent Members of the United Kingdom Parliament from going on fact-finding missions anywhere in the country. They should not require permission from any other Member of Parliament to do so.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman and the House must not run away with the idea that permission is required. It is simply a matter of courtesy to tell the hon. Member concerned. It is right that a Conservative Member who comes to my constituency to hold a political meeting should let me know about it. The hon. Gentleman might feel the same. There is nothing wrong with that; it is common sense and courtesy. I would do the same if I visited another hon. Member's constituency.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hesitate to raise this point of order. Apparently, you have upset one of my constituents who is one of your greatest fans. I have had a letter from Mr. Paul Cooper of Swanage telling me that you told us last Thursday--you have confirmed this in a letter to us today--that we would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of world war two. Mr. Cooper tells me in his letter that his war did not end until August and that this May, we shall celebrate the victory in Europe--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is not a point of order for me. I made a comprehensive statement last week and questions were raised during Business Questions with the

Column 160

Leader of the House. Everyone knows precisely what we are commemorating--the ending of both wars--and it will be done properly.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you give me some advice? Given that I come down to Westminster every week, should I write to the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) before I come here?

Madam Speaker: I find that a totally ridiculous waste of the House's time. There is no common sense in that ludicrous point of order.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. I am taking no more points of order now. We have business to do here.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) rose --

Madam Speaker: Has the hon. Gentleman just decided that he has a point of order?

Mr. Steen: No. I wanted to be helpful to you, Madam Speaker, because I have listened for some weeks to the exchanges between you and Opposition Members about what should happen when an hon. Member visits another hon. Member's constituency. I chose not to raise a point of order because I did not want to trouble the House or take up time. However, having heard the exchanges today, I want to ask for your help.

When the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) came to my constituency two weeks ago, he held a public meeting in the civic centre in Totnes which attracted 700 or 800 people-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear!"]--which is the entire membership of the Labour party in South Hams. He did not have the courtesy either to write to me or to tell me about his visit beforehand or afterwards. Could you, Madam Speaker, do more than just criticise hon. Members? Could you do something to prevent hon. Members who misbehave in this way from attending the House?

Madam Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my earlier response, he would know that I suggested to the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) that he might like to refer to the Procedure Committee whether I might have some authority to take action. I am surprised about the incident to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have always found that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has very good parliamentary manners. The hon. Gentleman may be rather sorry that he has raised the matter today, because he has given the meeting greater publicity than he may think it deserves.

Column 161

Television Sport (Public Access)

3.43 pm

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Broadcasting Act 1990 to provide that listed national sporting events, namely the F.I.F.A. World Cup Finals, the F.A. Cup Final, the Scottish F.A. Cup Final, the Wimbledon Finals, the Olympic Games, the Derby, the Grand National and Test Matches in England continue to be available on terrestrial television, and for connected purposes.

My Bill will provide for major sporting events to continue to be available on the main television channels. Millions of people--I freely admit to being one of them--enjoy watching sport on television. If viewing figures are anything to go by, sporting events are very popular. Last year, the grand national attracted 17 million viewers, the World cup finals were watched by 13.5 million people, the F.A. cup was watched by 12 million people, 11 million people watched the Olympics and perhaps the most spectacular viewing figure of all--I am not sure that everyone would call it a sport, but many fellow citizens do--was 24 million people, getting on for half the adult population, who watched Torvill and Dean at the winter Olympics. The appeal of sport on television, lest I be accused of simply pleading sporting interest, goes far beyond people who are sports enthusiasts. When the grand national is on television, it is discussed before the race, during the race and after the race in pubs, clubs and households everywhere. Indeed, major sporting events of the past are often remembered even generations after they occurred. Who could forget the 1953 Stanley Matthews cup final, which is remembered 42 years afterwards? Whether one supported Bolton or Blackpool, the memories are strong.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): What was the score?

Mr. Grocott: Three-two. [Hon. Members:-- "No, it wasn't."] It was 4:3. [Laughter.] Who could fail to remember the last moments of the 1966 World Cup final? Even the words of the commentator, "They think it's all over--it is now", are almost part of national memory. Such events are more than just sporting events, as are other triumphs in sport, whether by Coe, of whom some hon. Members may have heard, Ovett or Daley Thompson.

More recently, although people do not always describe it as a major sport-- it has been popularised by television--who could forget the match between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis, when Dennis Taylor won in the early hours of the morning on the last ball of the last frame? Millions of people stayed up to watch that event. Those events are part of our national life, they enrich our national life, they sometimes give us unforgettable memories, they amuse us and they entertain us.

What has been happening recently? In practice, there has been a steady loss of events from the main terrestrial channels. It makes a pretty long list. In golf, for example, the Ryder cup, ironically having been popularised by the BBC, is being lost, as is the United States PGA tournament, one of the four major golf tournaments. One-day cricket internationals in the United Kingdom are going and the Benson and Hedges cricket matches are going. We cannot even see the highlights of test matches overseas, let alone any live coverage. Most important of

Column 162

all, from our national sport with its huge popularity football at its highest level--the Premier league--was lost to ITV and has now gone to Sky.

Rumours abound about further losses of sporting events from terrestrial channels. It is no secret that Sky has been interested in acquiring the finals of Wimbledon, and there are rumours that cable television wants to take over coverage of the Endsleigh league. There is no doubt that the cable and satellite companies are interested in acquiring major sporting events and, obviously, increasing their number of subscribers by so doing.

People may criticise my Bill by saying that free-market forces somehow act in the magical interests of all viewers, or they may ask why we should worry because it is only a matter of time before satellite and cable channels are available to everyone. There is a short answer to such an allegation--those suggestions are rubbish. Let us be clear about how many people watch major events once they are transferred to satellite and cable channels. The truth is that only a fraction of viewers watch them. The penetration, if I may use an advertising man's word, of terrestrial television--the number of people who can receive it--is 99 per cent. of the population, or 23 million households. The penetration of satellite and cable is 18 per cent., or 4 million households. When a major event is transferred from one format to the other, most of our constituents cannot see it. The viewing figures speak for themselves. Earlier this year, as any football supporter will know, one of the major events of the season--the game between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers--easily achieved Sky's largest viewing figure of 1.2 million.

When ITV had the contract for First Division football four years ago, a game between Manchester United and Leeds United in 1991 attracted 9.3 million viewers. The simple averages are as follows: on average, under 1 million watch games on Sky, but when games were available on the terrestrial channels, the averages were between 7.5 million and 8 million viewers.

The net effect has been the loss of millions of potential viewers of major sporting events. We must be clear that recorded highlights are no substitute. Any sports enthusiast would agree with that. Indeed, shrewd television company managers are not interested in the sporting highlights. They are aware that if they want to get the viewers, they must show sport live.

Some people will say, "Don't worry; it will not be long before everyone has satellite and cable." Even the most optimistic estimates are that there is no possibility of that happening in the foreseeable future. There is no chance of anything like half the population of this country having access to such stations before the turn of the century. In the lifetime of any hon. Member in the Chamber, there is no chance of satellite and cable having the same level of access as the terrestrial television companies.

We must also consider the cost. If someone wants to watch major sporting events on satellite or cable, that will cost about £180 a year. From the viewers' point of view, what was previously part of their normal television service is now something that they have to pay large sums of money to have the privilege to watch. As Michael Grade, the head of Channel 4, said:

"Sky's main contribution to choice has been the opportunity for the public to pay more for what they have already."

Column 163

No one believes that there is any chance of those sporting events coming back to terrestrial stations once they are lost. All the executives of the television companies that I know anything about admit that they cannot compete, with their overall obligations for programming in financial terms, with a dedicated sports channel with a high subscription.

There is also a loss to sport. If young people, in particular, cannot see major sporting events, it is bad news for the future of the sport. It may be all right for the heads of the major sporting authorities such as the Football League or the Football Association to say that they will make money in the short term by selling exclusive rights to certain sporting events. However, that is a very short-term view. Although money may be available in the short term, people will not have the opportunity to see those sports in the long run and, one hopes, be encouraged to play them. We are all aware of the impact of television on the interests of people and their likelihood of playing sports.

In the short time left to me, I want to explain that my Bill is an attempt to stop the rot in respect of the loss of major sporting events from the major channels. The recommendation in my Bill is in line with the recommendation of the National Heritage Select Committee, which stated in its report last year that the major listed events--the English and Scottish cup finals, the World cup finals, the Wimbledon finals, test cricket in England, the grand national and the Derby--should not be available exclusively on subscription channels. That would effectively protect them for the main terrestrial channels.

For that to happen, there would have to be a change in the Broadcasting Act 1990, but I believe that that change would have overwhelming popular support. I would go much further: I would like to see many more major sporting events included in the list so that they are protected for the enjoyment of all of us and not just retained for a few.

The members of the National Heritage Select Committee and many other hon. Members can be under no illusion that there is overwhelming public support for my proposal. In far too many areas of our national life, good things that we have grown up with have been steadily eroded and we are poorer as a result. The

Column 164

spectacle and drama of sport at the highest level brings pleasure to millions for all of us to see. In the past, due to our democratically regulated broadcasting system, we were able to see those events. I commend my Bill to the House.

3.54 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): I oppose the motion in a qualified way. I have written to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) to say that I support the broad thrust of what he seeks to do; but, as the chairman of the Conservative Back-Bench sports committee, I simply ask him to bear in mind something that he mentioned towards the end of his remarks. There is a substantial responsibility on the part of the national sporting bodies not to go for short-term profit, but to ensure that national sporting occasions are, as he suggested, available to all.

I hold no brief for the cable television channels, and I support the broad thrust of what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do. [Interruption.] I hope that he will concentrate on encouraging--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that he must raise his voice in opposition.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bruce Grocott, Ms Hilary Armstrong, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. Bryan Davies, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. John Evans, Mr. John Maxton, Ms Estelle Morris, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Ken Purchase and Mr. Dennis Turner.

Television Sport (Public Access)

Mr. Bruce Grocott accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Broadcasting Act 1990 to provide that listed national sporting events, namely the F.I.F.A. World Cup Finals, the F.A. Cup Final, the Scottish F.A. Cup Final, the Wimbledon Finals, the Olympic Games, the Derby, the Grand National and Test Matches in England continue to be available on terrestrial television, and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 21 April, and to be printed. [Bill 53.]

Column 165

Orders of the Day

Health Authorities Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New clause 1

Annual report to Parliament on activities of regional offices of the National Health Service

`After section 8 of the National Health Service Act 1977 there shall be inserted--

Annual report on activities of regional offices of NHS executive

9.--(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report on the activities of the regional offices of the National Health Service Management Executive in respect of the discharge of all duties and functions transferred to those offices from Regional Health Authorities with effect from 1st April 1996.

(2) In this section, `regional office' means any office of the National Health Service for the time being designated by the Secretary of State to have responsibility for the "oversight of the finances and activities of National Health Service purchasing authorities and trusts on a regional basis.'.-- [Mrs. Beckett.] Brought up, and read the First time.

3.56 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2-- Duty of Secretary of State to publish accounts relating to projected expenditure savings --

`The Secretary of State shall, no later than 1st April 1997, lay before the House of Commons a statement of accounts giving-- (a) the level of expenditure on National Health Service administration in the financial year ending on 31st March 1996, excluding any expenditure attributable to the costs of implementing this Act,

(b) the estimated outturn of expenditure on National Health Service administration for the financial year ending on 31st March 1997, and

(c) an explanation of the factors to which any differences between the figures provided under paragraphs (a) and (b) above are attributed.'.

Mrs. Beckett: New clauses 1 and 2 go to the heart of the Government's purpose, or what we believe to be their purpose, in enacting the Bill, although new clause 2 relates principally to the financial consequences of the Bill. New clause 1 creates a mechanism by which Parliament can be informed of the outcome of the legislation, and can monitor its effects in practice as opposed to in claimed intent.

If the Government's real intention is what they claim--to remove unnecessary bureaucracy, to increase efficiency and create savings--the new clause will present them with no problems whatever. It creates an opportunity for the Government to parade their achievements. If, on the other hand, the Government's real intention is not what they claim but what we fear--to prevent public and parliamentary scrutiny of an operation which is to be carried out for the purposes of sheer dogma without regard for its potential and considerable practical difficulties and which might seriously inhibit the future

Column 166

smooth running of the national health service--new clause 1, calling as it does for an annual report to Parliament, will be the last thing they want.

Although the logic of new clause 1 is impeccable and its case irresistible, if the Government's primary purpose in moving the Bill was to draw a cloak of secrecy across the operation of the NHS, new clause 1--with its adherence to the principle of accountability to Parliament and to the public--strikes at that purpose itself. The logic of and the case for the new clause are irresistible, because the Bill is not just half-baked, it is not baked at all.

In 1991, as part of the Government's so-called reforms, regional health authorities were given greater powers because it was judged that a strategic authority at regional level was required. On Second Reading, we highlighted some of the major responsibilities of the existing regional authorities, and our wish to explore in Committee how they would be addressed in future. We have had the Committee, but--in all too many cases- -we have not had the answers. It is bad enough that, as usual, the Government have left so much to later regulation. But not only is there no detail as to what those regulations might contain, it seems all too often that the decisions have not even been made. Issue after issue is "to be decided" or is "being discussed", including the key issues of how future doctors and nurses will be trained and by whom they will be employed. A Government who embark on such a major structural change without working out how its consequences will be dealt with are a Government of crass irresponsibility. Incidentally, it casts an interesting light on the demands of Conservative Members for details of policies which the Labour party might pursue after the next election that this Bill is on its way to the statute book without the details having been worked out.

Two matters are crystal clear: first, the Bill will allow infinitely greater secrecy and concealment in hospitals and trusts; and, secondly, it will ensure that all roads lead back to the Secretary of State. At present, regional directors of public health have a duty to produce an annual public report on health care in their region. Historically, the role of practitioners of public health medicine as potential whistle blowers for public safety is one of the glories of British medicine and British public service. At regional level, they will become civil servants, bound by the Official Secrets Act 1911, their duty not to the public but to the Secretary of State.

The only remotely independent voice in the new structure that the Bill creates is that of the community health councils. Their chief executives-- full-time salaried public servants--are presently employed by regional health authorities. We asked what will become of them and whether they, too, would become not public servants in the employment of regional offices but civil servants whose duty is to the Secretary of State. No answer came.

At present, regional health authorities collect statistics at regional level and, as public servants, make much of that information public if requested. The only information that we can currently get about matters such as hospital closures comes from those regional health authorities. The Department of Health does not know about such matters and does not want to know. It tells us that, in future, regional offices will collect only the statistics that the Department wants for its own purposes in administering the system. On precedent, that would presumably not include information about hospital closures, the closure of

Column 167

accident and emergency departments or other such decisions, which impinge directly on the pattern of available health care across a region and which are certainly of public interest, whether the Department wants to know them or not.

Apart from the information that the regional health authorities will no longer collect, any requests for information, for example from Members of Parliament, will in future be referred to individual authorities or trusts. So there will not be the same responsibility for the flow of information to the public or their representatives for the use of public money.

The mechanism in new clause 1 would allow Parliament to explore how those and other functions of existing regional health authorities are being carried out under the new structure or, if they are not being carried out, to consider the effects of the change. Vital responsibilities of the present regional health authorities are to stay at regional office level, including oversight of the cancer screening programme and maintenance of cancer registers--at least until what the Minister called "other arrangements" can be made, whatever that may mean. National confidential inquiries may still be handled at that level. Existing ethnic health units will be "centralised" in the NHS, whatever that may mean for their future and role.

When we inquired about the training and education of clinical staff, we were told that it was "to be decided", although later the Minister of State said that it might remain "at regional level", as will the training of some junior doctors. However, the arrangements for such training and how they can take account of the role of universities and the dual academic-clinical role of postgraduate deans is, again, far from clear--if it has been decided at all. That group of issues is vital to the future of Britain's health care. The training of doctors, nurses and other health service staff, such as physiotherapists, and the holding of employment contracts for junior doctors impinge directly on whether the terms of their employment facilitate or even permit their continuing education. On all those matters, practitioners and their representatives express deep concern. They are alarmed at the prospect that those matters might be decided, in practice if not in theory, at the level of the individual trust, whose purpose, laid on it by the Government, is to secure its own future as a profitable health business, competing with other such businesses--not to co-operate in a general endeavour of training and employment, from which it can derive, as an individual trust, only partial benefit.

We recognise that the Government have spoken of the possibility of consortiums, variously of trusts or authorities, but the fact that they continued to discuss in Committee an issue of such relevance and importance as the holding of junior doctors' contracts, highlights the recklessness of the endeavour behind the Bill and the irresponsibility with which those fundamental decisions have been approached.

There remain severe doubts, including among health professionals, whether the new authorities that the Bill creates in place of regions will have the expertise to plan and co-ordinate the existing activities of those regional health authorities.

Column 168

All that shows that, whether at regional office level or away from that level, there is a continuing and important role to be played by those charged with carrying out duties that are currently the responsibility of regional health authorities. Parliament must have the chance to scrutinise the effects of the legislation, not only by discussing regulations when they are proposed, but by exploring, year by year, the cumulative practical changes to which the Bill will give effect.

It is useless to pretend that, under the new structure, even our present access to information will be maintained. Members of Parliament and other people with queries about the running of the health service will be referred to the individual authority or institution. Those are institutions in which staff at every level have gagging clauses in their contracts and local--no doubt soon performance-related--pay, to encourage them to remember where their loyalties are supposed to lie: not, as Mr. Roy Lilley recently remarked, to the patient, but to the organisation.

The position that appears likely to exist after the passage of the Bill reminds me strongly of the famous quote from Henry IV Part I, in which Glendower says that he can

"call spirits from the vasty deep",

only for Hotspur to reply,

"Why, so can I, or so can any man,

But will they come when you do call for them?"

Will the information come from the authorities or trusts when Members of Parliament or other people call for it?

A classic example from proceedings in Committee illustrates why we doubt that the answer might come when we call for it; it is a classic example of the way in which that process works now, even before the Bill reaches the statute book.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) told the Committee that she had been so impertinent as to ask the chief executive of her local trust exactly how the trust had spent £215,000 of taxpayer's money on the costs of setting up that trust. That was a small part of the £120 million or so devoted to that purpose throughout Britain, but a substantial sum of taxpayer's money none the less. When she spoke in Committee--and, as far as I am aware, to this day--the chief executive had declined to reply, thinking it, presumably, none of her business how he chooses to spend what the previous Prime Minister used to call "our money".

What advice did my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport receive from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), that staunch tribune of the people, the defender of the public purse? He advised her to

"work to improve her relationship with the chief executive of her local trust"--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 26 January 1995; c. 54.]--

in the hope, presumably, that if she did so he might condescend to answer her letter and her queries on behalf of her constituents. No doubt Ministers will dispute whether the further concealment of the truth about the national health service is part of the purpose of the Bill. They cannot dispute, because they themselves acknowledge it, that the effect of the Bill will be the removal of information now in the public domain. New clause 1 would go some way to redressing the balance; I therefore commend it to the House.

Next Section

  Home Page