HC Deb 12 April 1989 vol 150 cc913-4 3.59 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you look into the activities of the Secretary of State for Health in treating the House with contempt in relation to his proposed changes to National Health Service hospitals? He is already acting on the basis of his proposed legislation, assuming that it has been passed by the House. But it has been subject to no legislative scrutiny whatsoever.

I have received a letter from Mr. Terry Hunt, the regional general manager of North East Thames regional health authority, stating: I am seeking preliminary suggestions for the identification of hospitals … to be considered for self-governing status … These proposals will be explored with a view to establishing a shortlist of a few hospitals that … will be the first to become self-governing. He asked for the names of hospitals to be considered for inclusion on the initial shortlist to be sent to him no later than 5 May.

I wrote to him saying: It seems a negation of the democratic process for you to invite immediate bids for self-governing hospitals under a proposal which has not yet been through Parliament. I asked him to withdraw this letter and recognise that it is not right to anticipate the outcome of the Health legislation. Even if the Government thinks it can ride rough-shod over the democratic process, there is a responsibility for others not to do so On 6 April I received a reply saying: In this matter we are acting directly on the instructions of the Secretary of State through the Chief Executive of the NHS Management Board. He is acting directly before the legislation has been considered by the House. The Government are treating Parliament as a rubber stamp. It is an abuse of the parliamentary process and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look into it.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman raises a highly political matter, which continues what we were discussing yesterday. I have no responsibility for what Ministers say or do. These are matters which legitimately must be taken up in debate across the Floor of the House but not through the Chair.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No point of order can arise on that. What the Secretary of State writes in a letter is not a matter for me.

Mr. Banks

As a member of the Procedure Committee, I know that the report that was published yesterday made it quite clear that one of the reasons for the apparent lowering of parliamentary standards and the running of tempers rather high was the practice adopted by Ministers of making statements outside the House, and effectively circumventing procedures on the Floor of the House. This is yet a further example. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, you should take some interest in the matter.

Mr. Speaker

But we are referring not to a statement but to a letter that the Secretary of State wrote to an hon. Member. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Banks

The Secretary of State wrote to the health authority.

Mr. Cohen


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not a matter of order in the Chamber, it is a matter of political debate, and that is how it should be carried on.