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Mr. Bercow: The Parliamentary Secretary's mellifluous tone is as apparent as ever. I am bound to say, however, that his stance is rather rum. He appears to disapprove of the measure proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), but how can he do so when, by his own admission, he has not yet seen it? Is not it a trifle cheeky of him to speak portentously about the comprehensive Bill that the Government intend to introduce on the matter, when he is as yet in no position to judge--
Mr. Tipping: I shall keep within your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, and simply say that any adoption measure that is considered on the sixth Friday that is allocated in the motion will not be as comprehensive as the Bill that the Government will introduce. The advantage of being in government is that one has a hand in and sight of proposed legislation.
Mr. Tipping: I have no Bill in my back pocket, but the White Paper on adoption has been produced--[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to make me say that an Adoption Bill is extant. We have published a White Paper and held a consultation. We are in the process of producing a Bill, which will be introduced in the current Session, as the Prime Minister said.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) sagely and rightly said that there was nothing unusual about 2 February because the timetable is determined by the Queen's Speech. Several hon. Members have argued that we should have brought forward the first date for considering private Members' Bills. That is not possible because of the rules of the House.
Mr. Tipping: Standing Orders. Several hon. Members have said that we will not have enough time to discuss the private Members' Bills. They may know the date of the general election; they may be planning their campaign, but the Government have a good deal of business to tackle. We have set out our task, and we are determined to achieve more. A great deal has been achieved, but much more remains to be done. I look forward to doing that in the remainder of this Parliament and with a Labour Government in the next Parliament.
(a) after receiving the existing evidence and hearing such further evidence as necessary, to consider the extent of Harold Shipman's unlawful activities;
(b) to enquire into the actions of the statutory bodies, authorities, other organisations and responsible individuals concerned in the procedures and investigations which followed the deaths of those of Harold Shipman's patients who died in unlawful or suspicious circumstances;
(c) by reference to the case of Harold Shipman to enquire into the performance of the functions of those statutory bodies, authorities, other organisations and individuals with responsibility for monitoring primary care provision and the use of controlled drugs; and
(d) following those enquiries, to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to protect patients in the future, and to report its findings to the Secretary of State for the Home Department and to the Secretary of State for Health.
Harold Shipman, who practised as a GP in Hyde, Greater Manchester, was found guilty on 31 January last year at Preston Crown court of 15 charges of murder, and one of forging the will of one of his patients. The clinical audit of Shipman's practice, which was published on 5 January, has revealed that he may be responsible for many more deaths.
Shipman's victims placed their trust in him as their local GP. He abused his position of trust callously and determinedly. It is beyond belief that a doctor could act in that way. Shipman was a cold, calculated, evil killer. His crimes have shocked the country and caused enormous grief and suffering to hundreds of people. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of GPs in this country do a brilliant job for their patients. We must not allow Shipman's crimes to threaten the essential relationship between doctors and their patients.
From the outset, we wanted to make sure we learned the lessons of the case as quickly and effectively as possible so that we could take all the necessary measures to protect patients. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 1 February last year that an inquiry was to be set up under the National Health Service Act 1977. It was to have taken evidence in private, but would have published its conclusions and recommendations in full.
The decision to take evidence in private was, as the House knows, successfully challenged through a judicial review brought by families of the victims and by sections of the media. They wished the inquiry to be held in public. In upholding the request for a judicial review, the court asked my right hon. Friend to review his original decision. Consequently, we decided that the new inquiry should be held in public, and we consulted the families about the form it should take. The strong view of the victims' families was that the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 provided for the most suitable form of public inquiry.
On 21 September, my right hon. Friend announced that there would be a public inquiry under the 1921 Act into the issues surrounding the crimes committed by Harold Shipman. The tribunal will be wide ranging and cover different responsibilities, including those that fall outside the health service's remit. Tribunals under the 1921 Act generally hold all or most of their meetings in public and have all the powers of the High Court in respect of calling witnesses and the production of documents. They may take evidence on oath and they provide absolute privilege in respect of defamation.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The Minister referred to the victims' families, who are very important. Is it intended to grant the families the opportunity to be legally represented so that they can participate in the inquiry and ask questions through their counsel in the cross-examination of relevant witnesses?
Mr. Hutton: I understand that the chairman of the tribunal has ultimate responsibility for determining such matters. However, it is the usual practice in inquiries under the 1921 Act for witnesses to be legally represented. [Interruption.] I understand that the question arises in relation to people who wish to give evidence before the tribunal.
Mr. Hogg: Of course that is partly correct. However, will members of families who have a genuine interest in the outcome of the inquiry because their relatives may have been killed by Dr. Shipman, but who do not have evidence to give, have an opportunity to instruct counsel so they can ask relevant questions of witnesses?
Mr. Hutton: I am happy to write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman with more details if he would find that helpful. However, the question is whether those people wish to give evidence before the tribunal. If so, their entitlement to legal representation is essentially a matter for the chairman of the tribunal. As I said earlier, it is the usual practice in such inquiries for such legal representation to be permitted.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): I wonder whether my hon. Friend can assist me. I accept that it is not within his brief, but it has been reported in the press that Shipman was responsible for many other murders. That is being investigated. Would setting up the tribunal preclude charging Shipman with those murders? I appreciate that he has already received a life sentence. That is an important question, not least for the victims of that terrible man's crimes.