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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My right hon. Friend will have read the horrifying case reported in the press on Tuesday this week of the 17-month-old girl who was found to have a 1.5 in hypodermic syringe lodged within her kidney; it had been there for nine months. I have made some inquiries, and that incident is in no way unusual: eight people died last year because surgical detritus was left in a wound following an operation and 749 people suffered in the same way without dying. Such incidents are not unusual and this matter is important enough for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to make a statement saying what advice and guidance is given to surgeons to make sure that negligence in operating theatres does not lead to such horrifying consequences.

Mrs. Beckett: I sympathise with those involved in that difficult case, and so will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Government have put extra investment into the health service and we intend to use it to raise standards. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I do not think that I can find time for a debate on the matter, and I am not sure that my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement on it in the near future. However, we are dealing with the remaining stages of the Health Bill on Monday and it is possible that an issue arising in the debate might allow this matter to be discussed.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Before the Leader of the House made her statement today, I received earlier this week letters from UNICEF and Amnesty International telling me that the remaining stages of the Immigration and Asylum Bill would be dealt with next week. Would I be asking too much if I requested that the House be told of such matters before outside organisations, however worthy they may be?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand, and sympathise with, the right hon. Gentleman's view. My understanding is that that is what those organisations expected and that the letter said "probably", although I do not recall receiving a copy myself. He will know that there has been some discussion about the Immigration and Asylum Bill coming before the House at an earlier stage and that further work was needed. I think that those organisations had anticipated that, although the Bill had not reached the House quite as early as had perhaps originally been thought, it would be considered in the near future. I

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understand and take his point that it is right for the House to know about such matters first, and we try to observe that convention.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Has my right hon. Friend been told whether the Tory Opposition are still calling for an inquiry into the start of the war? I have not heard a word about that over the past few days, and certainly not since last night.

By the time of next week's Kosovo debate, will we have been told whether those in the discredited gang of appeasers outside--people like the Pilgers and the Pinters--have written to apologise for getting it completely wrong?

Mrs. Beckett: I am fairly certain that, if any comment is made that is thought worthy of being reported to the House, it will be reported in the debate to which my hon. Friend refers. As for whether the Opposition are still calling for an inquiry into the start of the war, I can only say that I, like my hon. Friend, have heard no more about that lately. No doubt, whether the call is renewed will depend on how things go.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Should we not, as a matter of urgency, have a debate next week on the percentage of people who voted in today's European elections? If, as seems possible, three quarters of Britain's voters go on strike today, have we not an obligation to review the democratic outrage whereby people are being asked to vote for a party, and to leave it to the party bosses to decide who is elected to the Parliament? If there is a massive strike today, have we not a duty to debate the issue next week?

Mrs. Beckett: If there is a relatively low turnout in the European elections, I doubt--unfortunately--that anyone will be dreadfully surprised. I think that all hon. Members regret the turnouts that we have seen even for general elections--and especially for local and European elections--which I, certainly, would like to be higher than they have been in recent years. Down the years, there has historically not been as high a turnout as most of us would wish.

I am always interested when Opposition Members refer to the notion that party bosses rather than the electorate will have the say on who are the candidates, as if they themselves were chosen by the electorate to be candidates for their parties and their constituencies. As far as I am aware, none of them was.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Is it not time that we had a debate on the Government's 10-year strategy on drugs? In 10 years' time, the drugs tsar will have resigned, the Prime Minister is likely to be Lord Sedgefield--

Mr. Mackinlay: Viscount Sedgefield.

Mr. Flynn: By that time, we shall have seen at least 1,000 avoidable deaths, and, if we follow the current trend and go on repeating our failures, the situation will continue.

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There has been a change in the public perception of the debate. Even the Daily Mail, which is the voice of the middle-aged and the middle class, has described the Government's policy as mere window dressing. It has talked of the hypocrisy of that policy as perceived by the public, and has called for a debate on the legalisation of drugs in order to reduce the harm done by them. Why on earth are we stupidly continuing to repeat the tired, failed policies that have killed thousands of our young people, rather than imitating the success of countries that have reduced the amount of drug harm?

Mrs. Beckett: I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about the issue, and takes every opportunity to advocate his point of view. As I told the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), we are conscious of the need to find time to debate the drugs strategy. I hope that we shall be able to debate it at some point, and that my hon. Friend can make his case again.

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has any wish or aspiration to become Lord Sedgefield, or indeed Viscount Sedgefield. I can only say that, as a loyal member of the Cabinet, I feel confident that I ought to suggest that he should at least be a duke.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I accept that, quite properly, the Leader of the House is reticent about commenting on matters that are before the court today. However, the question of anonymity for former soldiers in the Parachute Regiment is of great concern throughout the country, not just in Aldershot.

The Prime Minister has said that he can do nothing, although he was responsible for setting up the inquiry. May I suggest a solution? If the soldiers are not to be granted anonymity because the court cannot do that, could not the Leader of the House present a one-line Bill to give the security of the law to former soldiers who have served the country so well and put their lives at risk?

Mrs. Beckett: I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses. I understand, too, that he expresses it very much on behalf of his constituents, which is very much what all hon. Members are here to do. I accept that the concern goes wider than his constituency, but I know that, in his constituency, there will be particular worry. I can say only that, while I understand that concern, it is a matter for the inquiry; it is not a matter in which the Government can intervene. From his question, I am not entirely sure whether he is aware--he invited me to bring in legislation--that events have moved on to some degree and that the courts are looking into that matter at this moment.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth): Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the impact of the national minimum wage, a measure to which she gave a strong helping hand? Such a debate would allow the House to examine the emerging evidence that more than 400,000 jobs have been created since the national minimum wage was announced last year, including more than 100,000 in typically low-paid sectors. Such a debate would also allow the House to expose the baseless fears that the Conservative party tried to raise on the impact on jobs of the minimum wage, which is proving to be a boost to jobs, not a threat.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Conservative party did allege that--I think that the final

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figure was that about 2 million or 3 million jobs would be lost if any national minimum wage of any kind at any level were introduced. That was always nonsense.

My hon. Friend is right to say that, alongside the introduction of the national minimum wage, we have seen an increase in the number of jobs and in levels of employment. Although I would not say that we have evidence to link those two, as we pointed out before the election, it is true that, in, for example, parts of the United States and elsewhere, there has been evidence of the existence--and also of an increase in the level--of the national minimum wage and increases in employment at the same time, which again shows how ridiculous Conservative Members' claims were. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the follies of the Opposition in the near future.


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