Tories 'running scared' of debate on axed hospitals

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Indy Politics
Labour has accused the Conservatives of refusing the time for an Opposition debate in the Commons next week, because they are "running scared" from a vote on the closure of London hospitals in the run-up to the local elections.

The Opposition had not been granted a "supply day", which would allow it to debate a subject of its choice, for six weeks, a spokesman said.

Labour expected to be given a day next week, but claims that the Government decided against it when Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, was forced to come to the Commons before Easter to defend the closure of Bart's and other London hospitals.

A Conservative Party spokes-man rejected the claim, saying that the Government had granted the "vast majority" of Labour's requests recently, "but in the end we are the Government and they are the Opposition. We have business that we must get through the House".

Margaret Beckett, Labour's health spokeswoman, demanded a debate, "from which all too plainly the Government are running scared", and was supported by Sir John Gorst, the Conservative MP for Hendon North, who said he would vote against the Government.

Although the Euro-rebels are back in the fold, the Government's majority in the Commons is only nine, because two MPs have been suspended over the cash-for-questions affair.

Labour claimed that the Government could lose on an opposition motion to suspend hospital closures in London. Several other Conservative MPs expressed extreme hostility to Mrs Bottomley's plans, including Peter Brooke (Westminster South and City), Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent North), John Marshall (Hendon South) and Hugh Dykes (Harrow East).

Sir John Gorst said yesterday: "Those of us opposed to the Government's plans would like a debate next week and I would like to see a vote on it.

"If the Government won't change its mind, I think Parliament should have an opportunity of changing it for them. There are at least three of us who are fairly certain to vote against the Government and there are a number who might be abstaining."