§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your indulgence and apologise for not having given you notice of this matter earlier. It follows from the question asked of the Attorney-General just now by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle).
I am in a difficulty. I understand that the High Court today ruled that the Secretary of State for Social Services was wrong to sack the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area health authority and put commissioners in its place. Those commissioners, in accordance with their 953 duties, as I understand it, have closed a hospital in my constituency—St. Olave's. I raised the matter on the Floor of the House at the time, with the good will of all those concerned—there was picketing and the rest—but there was nothing further that I could do, and the hospital has now been closed for three weeks.
Now I learn that the Secretary of State had no right to take that action; that he was out of order legally. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, what protection we can obtain in this House when a Minister has taken action that has caused so much hardship. Should he not be brought here to explain why he took this illegal action, and what he intends to do about it?
§ Mr. Christopher Price
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have a ruling from you that on the point that has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle)? It should not be proper for the Minister to put in his appeal so quickly that it acts, as it were, as a gagging writ to prevent any discussion of the matter in the House? Can you confirm that it would be in order to raise this matter under various rules tomorrow, right up until the point that the appeal might be made?
§ Mr. Orme
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is imperative that the House has a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services. This morning's decision is of great importance. Not one, but two hospitals have been closed since the commissioners took office. Have you received a request from the Secretary of State to make a statement? If not, could you facilitate the making of such a statement?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) for the way in which he presented his point of order. I have received no request for a statement to be made. In reply to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), I would say that until a date has been set for a hearing a matter is not sub judice so far as this House is concerned. On the last point, it must surely be for the usual channels to get to work. I cannot invite statements from Ministers.
§ Mr. Mellish
Further to the point of of order, Mr. Speaker. I am trespassing on your good will, but in the light of what you have said would it be appropriate if I applied first thing in the morning for permission to table a private notice question to the Secretary of State and in that way get him to make a statement?
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot commit myself in public—I do not do it in private—about a private notice question. He has been here a long time and he knows his way around.
§ Mr. Foot
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what has been said and of the words that I think you yourself used, I should have thought that that was about as clear an invitation as there could possibly be for the Leader of the House to make a statement on the matter. I hope that he can give the House an indication immediately that he recognises the great importance of the subject and that he will insist on a statement being made to the House as early as possible by the Minister concerned.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I have listened to all the exchanges that have taken place and I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. In view of the statement of the Leader of the House there hardly seems another point of order on which I can rule connected with the Standing Orders of the House. However, if the right hon. Gentleman has something about the rules of the House on which he wants me to rule, I will of course do my best to do so.