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Ealing-Hammersmith Hounslow Family Practitioner Committee

Volume 35: debated on Tuesday 18 January 1983

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, pursuant to the answer of the Minister of State, Official Report, 30 November, c. 135, whether an official of his Department telephoned the administrator of Ealing-Hammersmith Houslow family practitioner committee during the past six months and inquired about the political affiliations of some members of the family practitioner committee.

I now find that such inquiries were in fact made in connection with letters which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) wished to send to members of this and other committees. The inquiries concerned only those committee members who are also members of local authorities. I have investigated the matter and I can assure the hon. Member that there was no motive for the inquiry other than to assist my hon. Friend in adopting a personal approach in his letters to the members concerned.

That seems to be a denial of what was stated previously. It seems that there may be some chance of the Minister coming clean to the House this afternoon. Will he explain what possible justification exists for making inquiries about the political affiliations of members of these committees? Is it not a disgrace?

My previous reply said that I was not aware of these approaches and that I had not authorised any. That remains the case. It is also true of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead. My hon. Friend wished to write to members of five FPCs about a problem with which he is dealing over offices at Wembley. An official decided that it would be helpful in writing personal letters if he knew the political affiliations of the elected local councillors of the FPCs.

Rather than look up the political affiliations of these councillors, which is publicly available in a book, the official decided to ring up the office and inquire about the political affiliations. Once Ministers discovered that, the inquiries were, of course, ended.

Can we all know what their political affiliations were? As the Minister has the information, will he publish it in the Official Report?

The Greater London council already fulfils that service for us. One can buy a document which gives London election results together with the political affiliations of every councillor, including those who serve on FPCs. Our official decided to engage in the cost of a telephone call rather than pay £7 to the Greater London council. Either method is open to the hon. Gentleman and anyone else.

What was the difference in the text of the letters that made it necessary for the official to know which letter to send to which councillor?

At that stage my hon. friend had not sent any of the letters. The intention was that he could vary his manner of address according to their party, if he so wished. Each Minister and each Member of Parliament follows his own practice. In correspondence I refer to more of my hon. Friends as "Yours ever" than I do to my opponents. It is entirely up to my hon. Friend what form of address he adopts.