§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe)
On Tuesday last—9 January—I answered a private notice question from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) about the handcuffing of prisoners who attend hospital. It was in particular reference to the treatment of a prisoner from Holloway prison who had attended Whittington hospital to give birth. During that answer, I told the House that no concerns had been registered by the hospital about Holloway practice. I did so on the explicit advice of the Prison Service.
On 11 January, I received a letter from Baroness Hayman, chairman of the Whittington Hospital NHS trust, in which she told me that I had been misinformed about the hospital's position. She said that the chief executive of the hospital had written to the governor of Holloway on 31 August last year to convey the concerns of the staff of the maternity unit.
As a result, I have now personally reviewed all the correspondence between the Whittington and Holloway. With his letter of 31 August to the prison, the chief executive forwarded a letter that he had received from his director of women's health, and that did express concerns over the practice.
The letter of 31 August was followed by further correspondence and meetings. The latest exchange was a letter received at the prison last Tuesday, of which I was unaware until after my reply to the private notice question. That letter was from the chief executive to the new governor offering to discuss a number of options.
I deeply regret that the advice that I had been given about this correspondence—and which I in turn gave to the House in all good faith—was wrong and I offer my unreserved apologies to the House.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that it would be improper to question the contents of a personal statement, but what 410 we have just heard is a statement, not a personal statement, and its contents should have been subject to questioning by the House of Commons. We have just seen an abuse of a personal statement in the House.
That is not at all correct. I accepted it as a personal statement. As such, it had to be heard in silence and with no comment afterwards.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have just heard the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) refer to the European Parliament, in which elected representatives from this country sit, as a neo-fascist institution, a description endorsed by the Lord President of the Council. Given that the Prime Minister wants closer co-operation between the House and the European Parliament to oversee European matters, I invite the Lord President not to endorse his hon. Friend's description of the European Parliament as a neo-fascist institution.
§ Mr. Newton
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As the hon. Gentleman will find as soon as he reads the text in Hansard, I in no way endorsed that comment.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Although I accept fully your ruling that personal statements cannot be questioned, I seek your advice on a matter relating to the shackling of pregnant women in Holloway, or anyone else. What methods are open to Members who would like to question the Minister of State and her odious boss on that uncivilised and barbaric practice?
Adjournment debates are open to all hon. Members, as are parliamentary questions to Home Office Ministers. I am sure that the hon. Lady knows the methods that we have in the House whereby Back Benchers can question Ministers on a variety of matters.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I politely ask you whether the statement by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), was seen by you before she made it?