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
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn