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Crown Immunity

Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland on how many occasions in each of the last six years he has been obliged to discontinue prosecution proceedings on the grounds that Crown immunity is involved.

I know of no such case. Criminal proceedings should not be instituted in the first place if Crown immunity is a bar to prosecution.

In view of the statement yesterday by the Minister for Health that the Government were giving further consideration to Crown immunity in hospitals—whereby hospital authorities cannot be prosecuted if, for example, their kitchens fall below statutory standards of hygiene—will the Solicitor-General give a commitment that abolition of Crown immunity will be extended to Scotland? Why should the Secretary of State not be prosecuted if he fails to give hospitals enough resources and puts patients at risk by failing to keep the hospitals up to statutory standards?

The matter of Crown immunity is of United Kingdom application. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, yesterday my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health said that he was considering the matter in respect of food hygiene regulations. If any change were to come out of that, prosecution would have to be considered, but first, we have to wait for what comes out of the review.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that this is a serious problem, because not only are hospital catering departments protected from competition, but they are now protected from action against them when they fall down because of incompetence?

I can only repeat that the matter of Crown immunity is there, and it covers hospitals. There can be no doubt about that. It is essentially a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. There has already been a clear sign that the matter is under review.

Will the Solicitor-General be directly involved in the review that he mentioned? Given that today all-party delegations have been to see his right hon. Friend the Minister for Health south of the border, have the Scottish Office or his Department had any input into the considerations thus far?

On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will have to ask that question of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He will appreciate that the review is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security to consider. As I have said, the issue of Crown immunity is of fundamental constitutional importance, and I anticipate that, if it were breached, there would be a wide-ranging review.

Will the Solicitor-General clear up the implication of the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)? Would a private contractor operating in a National Health Service hospital kitchen be subject to prosecution if the kitchen was unclean?

The situation is this. Even a number of employees within the NHS could be subject to prosecution if they were in breach of regulations. The position of private contractors is different. From what the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said, I understand that the point of greatest concern is what happens now, when there are no private contractors and the catering work is undertaken by the health board itself.