Scots MPs disrupt debates in fury over NHS opt-outs move

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Indy Politics
PROTESTS by Scots Labour MPs, angry at what they called a 'hole-in-the-corner' announcement of self-governing trust status for eight Scottish hospitals, ended with the abandonment of House of Commons business yesterday.

With the majority of Scots MPs becoming incensed at what they regard as the 'high-handed' attitude of Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, the release of the opt-out decisions just as Parliament adjourned for the Christmas recess was the last straw. Of Scotland's 72 MPs, only 11 are Conservatives.

Yesterday's protests were the more pointed as Mr Lang and his ministers had been in the Commons on Wednesday answering questions for an hour without mentioning the NHS trusts. By making his announcement through a written reply on the eve of the recess, he avoided any challenge in the House.

Forewarned, Scots Labour MPs arrived in force as MPs were engaged in a series of short debates and rose on points of order to demand a statement. First on her feet was Maria Fyfe, a health spokeswoman, who accused the Government of 'acting in a hole-in-the-corner manner because they are too gutless to come to this chamber'.

Not only were eight trusts being announced in the written answer but another six were to be announced next week, she said. Her colleague, Gordon McMaster (Paisley South), said: 'It's a disgrace, this unwanted policy has been forced on an unwilling people by an unelected government.'

As it became clear that no statement would be forthcoming, 12 Labour MPs stood directly in front of the Mace, the symbol of the authority of the House. Michael Morris, a Deputy Speaker, told the group they were 'trying to prevent democracy at work and directly challenging the chair' - provoking shouts that it was ministers who were preventing democracy.

After a five-minute suspension, the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, took the chair, but passions had not cooled and she ordered a further suspension for nearly three hours until 3pm, which meant the loss of six short debates.

About 40 MPs were in the chamber when the House resumed, but after announcing the Royal Assent for several Bills, Mrs Boothroyd swiftly adjourned the House to 11 January. Mrs Fyfe was vainly trying to raise another point of order as the Mace was whipped away by a Commons officer and the Press Gallery cleared by an attendant.

Mr Lang approved trust status for Moray Health Services, Dundee General Hospitals, Grampian Healthcare, Stirling Royal Infirmary, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, and, in Glasgow, Yorkhill, Southern General and the Victoria Infirmary.