Readers of my website will know that I have been trying to get to the bottom of the reported "Official announcement from the Health Secretary " about the future of King George Hospital which we were led to believe by Tory Council leader Keith Prince and the Ilford North Aldborough Tories was made by Jeremy Hunt just before polling day.
I have already written to the Cabinet Secretary and the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health to ask for an inquiry into whether the strict pre election purdah rule had been broken. I have yet to receive a response.
On 5 June I raised the matter in Parliament with the Leader of the House and former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
Here is my question and his reply
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):
May we have an early debate on purdah and the way in which Departments apply it? On 20 May, two days before polling day, the headline of the Ilford Recorder website was “King George A&E to remain open beyond 2015, says Health Secretary”. “Axe Halted” was the headline of the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian published on polling day. A leaflet apparently went out saying that it was an official announcement by the Secretary of State for Health. Given that the Leader of the House is a former Secretary of State for Health, would he have issued a leaflet saying that it was an official announcement two days before polling day, in breach of purdah? May we have an early debate on the appropriateness of private offices, officials and Ministers trying to break purdah during election periods?
I have seen the newspaper report to which the hon. Gentleman refers and what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said. It was a restatement of existing policy. There was no announcement. I know that perfectly well because my right hon. Friend was effectively restating what I had said, which was that there would be no changes at King George hospital, Ilford until there were sufficient improvements in the A and E service at Queen’s hospital and the community service that is provided to the local community. That had been announced previously. What is in a leaflet that is provided by a party is not the responsibility of the Government. Purdah does not mean that previous Government announcements and policies cannot be restated. That is all that happened
Immediately after the Business Question I raised a point of order with the Speaker as follows
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I feel sure that it is a point of order rather than one of frustration.
In view of the answer that I received from the Leader of the House, may I ask whether it would be possible to have an early response from the Secretary of State for Health to confirm that his Department and his officials were in no way involved in the breach of purdah which I am alleging took place in my constituency on 20 May?
Not for nothing has the hon. Gentleman been the sturdy representative of his constituency for the last 22 years. He is no stranger to the use of the parliamentary device of the point of order to convey his message, and I am sure that it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. I think that we can leave it there, unless the Leader of the House feels an urgent desire to spring to his feet—of which, I confess, I detect no sign.
As things stand it appears that Councillor Prince and the Ilford North Tories may have misrepresented the position of the government to try to con local voters and the local papers two days before the elections. But were they helped or encouraged by anyone working for the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt? Where did this statement come from? Why was it described as an official announcement? I will be vigorously pursing this matter for however long it takes over the next days, weeks, or months until I get the truth about this "official announcement"