Dorrell fails to bring rebels back to the fold

Attempts by Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, to pacify two Tory rebels angry about the closure of hospital casualty units appeared to have failed last night.

Sir John Gorst, MP for Hendon North, said after a meeting with Mr Dorrell that the Government could still not rely on his support. Sir John first made the threat last month and has abstained on three key votes since doing so.

He was accompanied to the Department of Health by Hugh Dykes, MP for Harrow East, who had been rumoured to be considering a similar protest.

Sir John said that although the hour-long meeting had ended with the minister agreeing to consider some of his suggestions for resolving the dispute, he could not disclose details of what had been said.

He said he was not expecting to meet Mr Dorrell again in the immediate future, but that he expected to hear from him on the matter soon.

"The situation remains as it has been all along. My policy is not to tell anyone what I am going to do.

"It doesn't mean that I won't, on some issues, vote against the Government or, if it is in the interests of my constituents, vote with them. They just can't rely on my vote," he said.

Sir John abstained last month on votes about fisheries and harassment, and did so again yesterday on the Government's sentencing Bill.

The complete withdrawal of his support would put the Government in a minority in the House of Commons.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the MPs had talked to Mr Dorrell about matters relating to health in their constituencies.

"Mr Dorrell emphasised that he remains available for further meetings, as he is to all constituency MPs," he said.

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