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Points Of Order

Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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4.39 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is about to consider the important National Health Service and Community Care Bill. It is enabling legislation in so far as it provides district health authorities with the right to let contracts and extends the principle of privatisation that has been introduced in recent years.

One aspect of the Bill that is causing concern to millions of people is how the public can be assured that Members of Parliament with a pecuniary interest in the privatisation of contracts will not vote in the Divisions that will take place during the next two and a half days.

In 1982, when the Lloyd's Bill was considered by the House, Mr. Speaker Thomas allowed a number of points of order on the rights of Members of Parliament to vote on that private Bill. This is a public Bill, affecting 52 million people in Britain. There will be votes and we are dealing with privatisation contractorisation. As you know, Mr. Speaker, we are required——

There are two kinds of interest. First, there is sponsorship by trade unions whereby Members personally receive nothing from the unions but where money is paid to constituency parties to run surgeries to help people in need of advice, in the same way that citizens' advice services are run. Secondly, there is a payment made direct to Members which they can use for their own private purposes and which derives from their being a consultant or a director of a lobbying company or a company directly involved in private health care. These are important matters for the general public.

Order. The hon. Gentleman never uses one word when 10 will do. Will he kindly come to the point, please?

I am explaining this because the public have been grossly misled about what constitutes pecuniary interest.

Order. I can answer the hon. Gentleman without hearing any more. This is a matter of public policy, and the hon. Gentleman well knows the rules because he is a member of the Select Committee on Procedure. He knows that any hon. Member who participates in a debate and who has an interest should declare it, whether he is a trade union member or has any other interest. But on matters of public policy it has always been the practice for hon. Members to cast their vote.

Well, what has the hon. Gentleman been saying to me for the past 20 minutes?

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that, of the 52 million people out there, 30 million understand exactly what we are doing in the House tonight. They demand that Members of Parliament who receive money directly from private health care should not be allowed to vote in our Divisions tonight and tomorrow, and they look to you, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that.

Order. I must interpret the rules. I have already stated what they are, and that is what will happen today. If the hon. Gentleman wants the rules changed, that must be done in a different way. At the moment I am bound by the rules.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Between 20 and 30 Conservative Members are directors or shareholders of or advisers to companies which will undoubtedly supply goods to the trusts that the Bill establishes. During the next few days we shall be debating legislation which seeks to make fundamental changes in the structure and organisation of the NHS. It suggests the formation of self-governing trusts. Therefore, I ask you to reflect upon the unique situation created by the Bill whereby those hon. Members could be held to have a direct pecuniary interest in the public policy that is being debated in the legislation.

Order. We debated the matter at some length last week when the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) drew my attention to the fact that I had limited the time allowed on a statement so that it could be fully debated. The House will have to decide on any change that there may be to the rules, but at the moment I repeat that any direct interests should be declared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but hon. Members may vote on any matters of public policy. Let us get on with the Bill.