Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Religion Or Belief Discrimination

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 25 June, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002].





23 Jun 2003 : Column 834





11.2 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I wish to present a petition on behalf of many hundreds of my constituents who want to preserve their local pharmacies and safeguard the services that they provide to the local communities that I represent. I am delighted that a Health Minister is present to hear the petition.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

23 Jun 2003 : Column 833

Community Health Councils (Cheshire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]

11.3 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate about the needless and deeply resented closure of Cheshire's three excellent community health councils.

This is a case of the Government springing on the country a final decision, as at paragraph 10.35 on page 95 of the NHS plan, which was published in July 2000, just as the House rose for the summer recess, as it happens—an amazing coincidence. In the plan, the Government said:

"community health councils will be abolished and funding redirected to help fund the new Patient Advocate and Liaison Service and the other new citizens empowerment mechanisms".

On 15 November 2000, during Prime Minister's questions—or PMPs, as they are more commonly known these days—

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): PMPs?

Mr. O'Brien: Yes: Prime Minister's porkies. I asked the Prime Minister the following question:

He replied, most sincerely:

Later that day, the Prime Minister's office briefed all the journalists and regional media. Lo and behold, on the following Monday I received a three-page letter from the Prime Minister in which he had to retract his statement to the House. Of course, he did not come here to explain: he just sent me a personal letter, which started "Dear Stephen" and ended "Yours ever, Tony"—not that I had ever met him before—in which he had to admit that there had not been prior consultation leading up to the Government's decision cavalierly to scrap community health councils. The letter said:

He concluded:

I believe that the campaign that ensued was the result of deep anxiety about that extraordinary retraction and doublespeak, which was exposed the following week in a Westminster Hall debate that I was fortunate enough to secure. A long campaign followed.

Does that all sound rather familiar to the Minister? Was not the Prime Minister's botched Cabinet reshuffle yet another case of, "Here we go again: decision first, consultation to follow"?

Two and a half years later, what has it all come to? It is a tale of woeful incompetence by this Government—yet again, under Labour, patients last, Government shambles first. In Cheshire, we are losing three very good CHCs—Chester and Ellesmere Port, Cheshire Central and Macclesfield, all with excellent professional and volunteer staff who are well known to my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), Congleton (Ann Winterton), Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), all of whose constituents have cause at times to use hospitals in Cheshire and therefore need those independent and valued services. At least, they did, until the Government put them on death row. Now that their execution has been drawn out for a further three months from 1 September to 1 December, it is typical that under this Prime Minister all the Ministers responsible have moved on ahead of their shambolic mistakes—namely, the former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) and, most recently, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I dare say that the hapless new Minister has been sent to defend the decision, yet the only remaining member of the Government who is still responsible for the chaos and confusion is the Prime Minister himself. He should be here justifying why he has not got the replacements for community health councils up and running on time.

What is really important to patients who often still feel vulnerable and are in continuing need of NHS treatment is an independent and experienced body, as the CHCs in Cheshire have been, to give them the trust, the confidence and, above all, the confidentiality to chart their way through the self-defensive nature of the NHS. That is what patients need when things go wrong, as is inevitable in any organisation, especially the biggest in Europe. That is a blunt fact: it is not to decry the doctors, the nurses and all the staff. At the moment, the Government are so fearful of any criticism of the NHS that they want to take the CHCs away because an independent voice might just expose the truth, which is not what they are keen to hear.

Next Section

IndexHome Page