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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Earlier, the Solicitor-General was so garrulous that we were unable to reach Question 32, and therefore unable to ask him quite what he meant when he said today that it was important to create a rights culture. Yesterday, the Home Secretary told local government representatives that they would be facing a raft of legal challenges as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Lord Chancellor has pointed out that it will cost £40 million in additional legal aid next year. I do not recall Ministers being quite so forthcoming when the Act was being considered by the House, so is it not a matter that we might revisit with a further debate? Furthermore, does the Leader of House agree that our human rights are being infringed by being unable to celebrate the Queen Mother's birthday with a public holiday?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not aware that it is a human right to celebrate the Queen Mother's birthday, although I expect that many people, not least the Queen Mother herself, will do so.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are already subject to the European convention on human rights. All that has happened as a result of the change that the Government have made, is that people can exercise their rights in this

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country instead of having to exercise them by accessing courts overseas. Given their Europhobia, I would have thought that Conservative Members might welcome that.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): A Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry said in the Berliner Zeitung that this country was likely to become a member of the single currency sooner than everyone expects and that this country would be bounced into an early referendum on the single currency should the Labour party form the next Government. Last night, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the Prime Minister had not gone cold on proportional representation and that it was likely that a commitment for a referendum on a changed voting system would also be given. Will the Leader of the House tell the House whether Alastair Campbell has yet told the Prime Minister when the country is likely to have both referendums?

Mrs. Beckett: I am not aware that anyone has suggested that my right hon. Friend from the DTI said that this country would be bounced into a referendum. The Labour party is offering the people of this country a referendum, and the Conservative party will certainly not do that in the next Parliament. As to the issue of what my right hon. Friend is or is not supposed to have said, heaven knows that it is difficult enough to get people to report things accurately even when the remarks are not translated.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Further to the right hon. Lady's reply, will she help the House by saying whether the remarks of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe were a translation of the views of the Prime Minister, or those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or possibly even those of the Foreign Secretary? Is it not time that the House at last had an open and full discussion of the genuine intentions of the Government on the single currency and on when they wish to introduce it?

Mrs. Beckett: My understanding is that the report was not even a translation of the views of my right hon. Friend.

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Opposition Day

[15th Allotted Day]

National Health Service

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the Prime Minister. Because of the number of Back-Bench Members who wish to take part in the debate, I have had to limit speeches to 15 minutes.

1.19 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) rose--

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Dr. Fox: I will be happier if my hon. Friends cheer when I have finished my speech, Madam Speaker.

I beg to move,

If we want a clear example of the Government's priorities in their approach to running health care in the United Kingdom, we need to look no further than last night's edition of the Evening Standard. Its headline "NHS blocks shock report on killing" tells us all that we need to know about the culture in the Government and the attitudes of Ministers. The report states:

The report continues:

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On that very point--

Dr. Fox: I have hardly started, and shall take interventions later. [Interruption.] I shall not take the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He may as well save his blood pressure and sit down for a moment.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a tradition in the House of Commons

29 Jun 2000 : Column 1059

that a Member who makes an allegation of that nature gives way to interventions. Is that not correct? What is wrong with the man?

Madam Speaker: The Member who has the Floor determines for himself whether to give way. I heard the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) say that he would give way in a moment or two. Is that correct?

Dr. Fox: Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stand by that statement.

Dr. Fox: I did not say that I would give way to the hon. Member for Workington, only that I would give way. Some hon. Members, however long they have been here, are slow learners.

The Government exist only to be in office and are obsessed with their own image.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Is this a genuine point of order?

Mr. Bennett: Surely the hon. Gentleman's remark was an insult to you, Madam Speaker, and he should withdraw it.

Madam Speaker: I must have a particularly thick skin this Thursday morning, as I did not recognise it as an insult.

Dr. Fox: I do not feel too sorry, as I have been in the Whips Office and know a Whips' operation when I see one. I know what a badly rattled Government try to do when they are in trouble. If there are no more points of order for the time being, I shall continue with bad-mouthing the Government.

The Government are obsessed by their own image, PR and propaganda. They are devoid of substance and are willing to subjugate truth, public interest and individual well-being and care to their overwhelming desire to remain in power. Yesterday's incident was just another example of that. The Government's priority is prioritising good news for Labour politicians, which is underpinned by bullying, secrecy and manipulation. In 1995, the Labour party stated:

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose--

Dr. Fox: True to my word, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Workington.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I thank the hon. Gentleman. May I have the good fortune of telling him that yesterday's Evening Standard report that he read out is a

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total and utter fabrication. In the light of that, is he prepared to reconsider what he said and withdraw the text?

Dr. Fox: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the barrister involved in that report. I am sure that she would be very interested if he wished to repeat outside the House the allegation that the report is bogus.

Another example that comes to mind is the headline in this morning's edition of The Independent "Officials drew up plans for NHS cuts cover-up". The Independent reports that the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party raised the matter yesterday, and states:


The Independent reports that a Department of Health letter written by an official said:

The Independent reports that another letter said:

That says everything about the Government's culture.

More substantial comment on that aspect of the Government was made by Judy Jones in a revealing series of articles in the British Medical Journal. She said that when an NHS trust in Northern Ireland reneged on promised funding for a new 10-bed drug rehabilitation unit, a consultant psychiatrist expressed his concerns to a newspaper. How audacious of him! As a result, he was called to account by the trust chief executive, who told him that his actions were ill judged, ill advised and detrimental to the trust. The consultant construed the dressing down as a warning and asked the British Medical Association for advice; he was the first of a very large number of consultants to do so in recent months.

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