Inside Parliament: Parties clash over hospital murders inquiry

The Beverly Allitt case became the focus of party political wrangling yesterday as John Smith, the Labour leader, repeatedly pressed the Prime Minister to institute a full public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the deaths of four children at a Lincolnshire hospital.

Tory backbenchers grew increasingly angry at Mr Smith's insistence, shouting 'cheap, cheap'. Labour MPs, in turn, alleged a 'cover-up' as John Major defended the investigation to be conducted by Sir Cecil Clothier.

Opening the Question Time clash, Mr Smith expressed his party's sympathy for the parents of the victims of Allitt, a nurse at the Grantham and Kesteven General Hospital.

'Does the Prime Minister fully appreciate the extent of the anger and apprehension which exists among parents throughout the nation that it should be possible in one of our hospitals for a nurse with a known psychiatric disorder to destroy the lives of children in her care?

'In view of the appalling negligence that has obviously occurred, why has the Government refused to have a full public inquiry with the powers to require the evidence of witnesses on oath and compel the disclosure of all documents?'

Mr Major said the most important thing was to have an inquiry that was most likely to get at the truth. 'We take the view that Sir Cecil's inquiry is likely to be the most effective.' It was Sir Cecil's view that people would be more willing to speak freely to his inquiry than to a public inquiry, he said. 'I share that view and I think upon that basis that it is right to proceed with the inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Cecil.'

Mr Smith did not doubt Sir Cecil's competence or integrity but wondered how he knew whether people would be willing or not to give evidence. 'Surely in the public interest, we should have an inquiry with the fullest powers? The parents of the children concerned and the majority of the nursing staff want a full public inquiry so that nothing is concealed. What is wrong with such a reasonable request?'

Mr Major said Sir Cecil had agreed to see the parents. 'If he wishes further powers, then he will come back and seek them from the Government and we will provide them.' Sir Cecil, as a former parliamentary commissioner for health, had a great deal of experience, the Prime Minister said. 'I am happy to accept his judgement on what is the most appropriate way to carry out the inquiry.'

But Mr Smith said the nature of the powers should be the Government's responsibility, not Sir Cecil's. 'Is it not inappropriate for the inquiry to be set up and asked to report to the very regional health authority whose own actions may be the subject of the inquiry? And is it not totally unsatisfactory. . . that the Health Secretary (Virginia Bottomley) has apparently given more weight to the wishes of the health authority than the parents of the children?'

With Tory backbenchers starting to boil, Mr Major retorted: 'I do believe upon reflection that the Right Honourable Gentleman might be ashamed of some of the things he has just said. We want a rigorous and swift inquiry. . . that gets at the truth, not an inquiry that just raises party political points.'

The Allitt case also figured briefly in the debate which followed, a wide-ranging affair on a procedural motion approving the spring adjournment from 27 May to 7 June. MPs take part in recess debates by arguing, completely disingenuously, that they should not go on holiday until a particular issue has been dealt with.

Several Tory MPs used the occasion to criticise the Government over VAT on fuel bills, school tests, 'diffident' leadership on Bosnia and attempts by the Department of Social Security to get pensions paid directly through banks and building societies. William Powell, MP for Corby, wanted heads to roll at the DSS over the 'extremely maladroit' letters sent to pensioners. 'This is one of the most serious political misjudgements which has been made,' he said. Earlier, Mr Major promised that pensioners would continue to be able to receive the money from a nationwide network of post offices.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackey North and Stoke Newington, wanted action to tackle the problems caused by prostitution which she said had reached an 'epidemic stage' in areas like Stamford Hill in her constituency.

She spoke of women being propositioned as they walked their children to school and the residents of sheltered housing finding their doorways littered with syringes and used condoms. Police should have more resources to deal with prostitutes and tougher action should be taken against kerb crawlers, Ms Abbott said.

David Nicholson, Conservative MP for Taunton, blamed his party's county council election defeats on 'a sense of lack of competence, of lack of direction, at the heart of Government'. He was 'baffled' that John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, was pressing ahead with tests that he had accepted were 'far too complex and bureaucratic'.

Complimenting the Tory dissident, Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham NW, added: 'This Conservative government is beginning to resemble Eldorado - rotten actors, lousy scripts and no popularity whatsoever.' Mr Banks's main theme was a call to the Government to consider the legalisation of drugs. He declared he had never used cannabis but was informed it was non-addictive, unlike alcohol. 'If we are really looking at this from a health point of view. . . let us legalise cannabis and let us declare illegal alcohol and nicotine.'

Nigel Jones, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, used the omnibus debate to air the grievances of his voiceless and forcibly deunionised constituents at the Government's GCHQ listening post. They wanted the Government to make clear that GCHQ has not been bugging the private telephone calls of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Mr Jones said.

There was a feeling among staff that the Government was happy to let the stories run 'because it diverts attention away from the Government's economic and policy difficulties'.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album