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Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that we on the Labour Benches are entitled to be proud of the 2000 Act, which introduced a new procedure for donations? Acknowledging that there is a loophole that allows parties to receive commercial loans, does my hon. Friend accept that her statement[Interruption.] Opposition Members might allow others to speak. I think that they are a little on the defensive. [Interruption.] Yes, I do. No one tried to amend the legislation before. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are going for maximum transparency in respect of all loans and all donations to all political parties as soon as possible?
Bridget Prentice : My right hon. Friend is right. When the Act was passed in 2000, no one in the House thought about the effect of loans. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier today, the system has not been cleaned up enough and we need to change it. That is why we are introducing the amendment to the Electoral Administration Bill. We have a proud record of trying to bring about greater transparency, and we shall continue to do so.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister think that the British public should regard this Government and their Prime Minister as whiter than white? If not, what advice would she give to the Prime Minister about his future?
Bridget Prentice: The Prime Minister, along with this Government, has made radical changes in this country. We have introduced the minimum wage, put more money than anyone else has done before into hospitals and schools, reduced unemployment and made the economy more sound. The record of this Government and Prime Minister is second to none, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that before he goes any further.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
I listened very carefully to the answers given to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). Does the Minister accept that, in disclosing the nature of the loans given over the past 10 years, we need to know why the people making those
20 Mar 2006 : Column 31
loans thought it necessary to keep their names secret; what conditions were placed on them by the people making the loans; what interest rates were paid on them and whether those interest rates have varied during that period? If there is to be any confidence in the political system, it has got to be absolutely open and above board as to why people felt it necessary to keep their names secret while making any loan to any political party.
Bridget Prentice: There are a variety of reasons why people wish to keep their names secret when they give loans or even donations to political parties. I think we are all pretty much aware of what they are. However, we feel that we need to go further than we went in the 2000 Act, which is why we are bringing forward the amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend will also contribute to the debate on how political parties should be funded. The bottom line, if I may put it that way, is that we make things as transparent as possible, so that people have confidence in the democratic process and so that political parties re-engage with the public in the way that we would all like.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24, to discuss a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the announcement last Thursday of up to 1,200 staff reductions at the University hospital of North Staffordshire. I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I am a little out of breath; I thought that the statement would continue rather longer.
My local hospital is one of 18 NHS trusts in the country earmarked in January by the Secretary of State to receive the attention of turnaround teams. It is the first to announce its financial recovery plan. Locally, of course, the cuts are devastating. They include 573 nurses, midwives and auxiliaries, and one in five of all nursing staff. The situation at the hospital, however, illustrates more fundamental issues about governance, management and control across the NHS.
This was a hospital that was allowed to drift by its strategic health authority and the NHS Executive, and right up to the desk of the former NHS chief executive, the soon-to-be Lord Crisp. It was allowed the luxury of letting its former chief executive serve one year's notice before quitting for personal reasons. Even then, last year, it could appoint only an acting chief executive, who was moved on in January. That followed the resignation of the chairman and all the non-executive directors days before Christmas. Throughout this period, it employed accounting staff who evidently found numbers troublesome. That is all the more surprising as the numbers have to add up for a brand-new private finance initiative hospital that has been planned for years.
Since Christmas, local MPs have been trying to get to the bottom of the hospital's projected £18 million deficit this year. We have failed to be able to do so. At a meeting in mid-February, we were promised the details by the SHA, but instead, all we had last Thursday, out of the blue, was talk of £43 million savings over two years. The document issued to staff giving 90 days' notice of redundancy is a disgrace in content and tone. This is a hospital, not a business going bankrupt. This is no way to secure the continued staff good will on whose basis our NHS operates. Despite its consequences, the notice was issued on no higher authorisation than that of the acting chief executive of the hospital. Much of the deficit is down to national policies, the consequences of which are coming home to roost. A great deal of change is taking place, but it is important that the response to the deficits does not veer out of control.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have listened carefully and, in the circumstances, sympathetically to the hon. Gentleman. I must give my decision without giving any reasons: I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House. However, I am sure that he has noted that there is an estimates debate this afternoon on the NHS financial deficit, and I commend that thought to him.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, The Mail on Sunday yesterday contained an article that included what were purported to be details of the living away from home allowance claims made by a right hon. Member of the House. I have absolutely no idea whether those details were correct or whether the complaints made about them are sustainablethey may have been completely invented. If there has been a leak from the Fees Officeprima facie, someone in the Fees Office may have sold information available to them in the course of their dutieswill you ensure that an inquiry is undertaken to remove that terrible suspicion from people who serve the House on the whole extremely honourably and well?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have no reason for supposing that there has been any lowering of standards by an Officer of this House, and I did not necessarily take that implication from that article, which I also saw. There is a procedure to deal with that matter, and if there is any ground for suspicion, I am sure that it will be brought up in the proper manner with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I draw your attention to a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition at Prime Minister's Question Time on 15 March:
"We believe in parliamentary scrutinyI know that the Prime Minister probably cannot even spell those words, but we happen to think that it is important."?[Official Report, 15 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 1452.]
May I subsequently draw your attention to the Ninth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, which considered the important Civil Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2005, because not a single Opposition Member turned up and the matter was discussed in their absence? Should the Leader of the Opposition be admonished for misleading the House?
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