Patricia Hewitt

The Right Honourable
Patricia Hewitt
Secretary of State for Health
In office
5 May 2005  27 June 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by John Reid
Succeeded by Alan Johnson
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
President of the Board of Trade
In office
8 June 2001  5 May 2005
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Stephen Byers
Succeeded by Alan Johnson
Minister for Women
In office
8 June 2001  5 May 2005
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by The Baroness Jay of Paddington
Succeeded by Tessa Jowell
Economic Secretary to the Treasury
In office
27 July 1998  17 May 1999
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Helen Liddell
Succeeded by Melanie Johnson
Member of Parliament
for Leicester West
In office
2 May 1997  12 April 2010
Preceded by Greville Janner
Succeeded by Liz Kendall
Personal details
Born (1948-12-02) 2 December 1948
Canberra, Australia
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) David Julian Gibson-Watt (1970–1978)
Bill Birtles (1981–present)
Children 2
Alma mater Australian National University
Nuffield College, Oxford
Newnham College, Cambridge

Patricia Hope Hewitt (born 2 December 1948) is an Australian-born British Labour politician, who served in the Cabinet until 2007, most recently as Secretary of State for Health.

Hewitt's political career began in the 1970s as a high-profile left-winger and supporter of Tony Benn, even being classified by MI5 as an alleged communist sympathiser. After nine years as General Secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, she became press secretary to Neil Kinnock, whom she assisted in the modernisation of the Labour Party. In 1997, she became the first female MP for Leicester West, a safe Labour seat, which she represented for thirteen years.

In 2001, she joined Blair's cabinet as President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, before becoming Health Secretary in 2005. During her tenure, the ban on smoking in public places became legally enforceable. Hewitt has sparked many controversies, notably her selection of a female job-applicant over a stronger male candidate,[1] and her theory that fathers may not be a useful influence in the upbringing of children.[2]

In March 2010, Hewitt was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party over the question of political lobbying irregularities, alleged by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme.

Early life

Born in Canberra, Australia, she is the daughter of Sir Lenox Hewitt (b. 1917), a leading civil servant (Secretary of the Australian Prime Minister's Department, and later chairman of Qantas), and Lady (Hope) Hewitt (1915–2011). She was educated at Canberra Girls' Grammar School (formerly Canberra Church of England Girls' Grammar School).[3] She studied for her undergraduate degree in English Literature at Cambridge where she received a BA/MA. She later became a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford and was awarded an honorary MA. She speaks French and is a keen gardener.

She married David Julian Gibson-Watt, second son of David Gibson Watt, Conservative MP for Hereford, and Diana Hambro, in 1970. The couple divorced in 1978. By this time she had moved to the left, becoming a committed feminist.[4] MI5 classified her a "Communist sympathiser" in the 1970s because of her relationship with William (Bill) Jack Birtles, a lawyer.[5] In 1981, she married Birtles in Camden; they have a daughter (born September 1986) and a son (born February 1988). In 1971, she became Age Concern's Press and Public Relations Officer, before joining the UK's National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) initially as a women's rights officer in 1973, and for nine years from 1974 as the general secretary.

In 1990 the Council of Europe ruled MI5 surveillance of both Hewitt and the NCCL legal officer, Harriet Harman had breached the European Convention of Human Rights.[6] She is a former school governor at the Kentish Town Primary School.

Pre-Parliamentary career

Hewitt joined the Labour Party in the 1970, and was initially a follower of Tony Benn; she publicly condemned those left-wing MPs who abstained in the deputy leadership election of 1981, giving Denis Healey a narrow victory. She was selected as the Labour candidate in Leicester East constituency at the 1983 General Election following the defection of the sitting Labour MP Tom Bradley to the Social Democratic Party. Bradley stood for the SDP at the election, but it was the Conservative candidate Peter Bruinvels who defeated Hewitt, who came second, by just 933 votes.

Following her defeat in Leicester, she became press secretary to the Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock. In this role she was a key player in the first stages of the 'modernisation' of the Labour Party, and along with Clive Hollick, helped set up the Institute for Public Policy Research and was its deputy director 1989–1994.

Following Labour’s defeat in 1992, Hewitt was asked by the new Labour Leader, John Smith, to help establish the Commission on Social Justice, of which she became deputy chair.[7] She became head of research with Andersen Consulting, remaining in the post during the period 1994–1997.

Hewitt was elected to the House of Commons as the first female MP for Leicester West at the 1997 General Election following the retirement of the Labour MP Greville Janner. She was elected with a majority of 12,864 and remained the constituency MP until stepping down in 2010. She made her maiden speech on 3 July 1997.[8] Hewitt's constituency of Leicester West is a safe Labour seat, with a majority of 9,070 votes in the 2005 General Election.

Parliamentary career

In Parliament she served for a year as a member of the social security select committee from 1997 before becoming a member of the government of Tony Blair in his first reshuffle in 1998 as the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. She was promoted in 1999 to become a Minister of State for Small Business and E-Commerce at the Department of Trade and Industry, and created the Social Enterprise Unit for similar new companies. While in office Hewitt initiated a White Paper on telecommunications and broadcasting jointly published by DTI and DCMS, this proposed the merger of seven or more different regulators to create a single converged regulator, OFCOM. Hewitt was then responsible for appointing its first chairman, Lord Currie.

She joined the Blair Cabinet for the first time following the 2001 General Election as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women and Equality. She spent four years in this post and was seen as a fairly effective Trade and Industry Secretary despite controversial policies affecting her own constituency.[9] However, she was seen as lacking leadership, particularly on consumer issues.[10] Hewitt was then moved sideways to Health Secretary in May 2005.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Hewitt became a member of the Privy Council in 2001 and was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry from June 2001 until May 2005. During her time at the DTI Hewitt introduced the 'say on pay' laws that required public companies to hold an annual shareholders' vote on the Remuneration Committee report on senior executive pay.

In September 2005, a Judicial Review found Hewitt "guilty of unlawful sex discrimination" when she employed a female applicant for a DTI position ahead of a significantly stronger male candidate. The judge ruled that Malcolm Hanney had lost out to a candidate ranked third by the interview panel and that the failure to appoint him was "in breach of the code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies". Hewitt had quoted the Code of Practice on Public Appointments, which said: "Ministers will wish to balance boards in terms of diversity as well as skills and experience.", though the panel had clearly stated that Mr Hanney was "much the strongest candidate". The DTI apologised and Hanney was awarded £17,967.17 costs.[11] The appointment was not overturned however and Hewitt herself did not apologise and claimed not to have realised she was in breach of the law. Rod Liddle writing for The Times juxtaposed Hewitt's claim with the fact that Hewitt's department was itself responsible for the Sex Discrimination Act, suggesting she believed the purpose of sex discrimination legislation "was intended to be of benefit only to women" rather than "maltreated job applicants...foolish enough to be born with a penis".[12]

Hewitt was criticised for a 2003 report by the Women and Equality unit which was run by Hewitt, in which it was stated that there was a "real problem" with mothers who stayed at home to bring up their children.[13] It was described as '"bullying and intolerant" by The Institute of Directors with criticism also coming from mothers groups.[14]

Secretary of State for Health

She was appointed Secretary of State for Health following the 2005 General Election. She was tipped for Work and Pensions department before this. She had a turbulent two years in office, during which several difficult issues arose, such as the controversy over the Medical Training Application Service computer system. However, she also achieved several things during her time in office, including persuading MPs to vote for a complete smoking ban in public places in England.

In April 2006, Hewitt made a speech in which she quoted Nigel Crisp's, the then current NHS chief executive, 2014 NHS annual report foreword, stating the NHS had had "its best year ever" and citing a decrease in waiting times for hospital treatment. However, this claim came at a time when thousands of jobs were being cut across the country as a number of NHS trusts attempted to cope with budget deficits. This comment did not go down well, and at the Royal College of Nursing 2006 Congress in Bournemouth, Hewitt was heckled and booed by health workers. Delegates at the conference called for job cuts and bed closures, part of planned NHS reforms aimed at improving the effectiveness of the service, to be halted, predicting that the number of posts lost could reach 13,000, and said a work to rule was possible.[15] BMA chairman Mr. James Johnson claimed 2006 was actually one of the worst years on record and that "2006 has been full of bleak moments for the NHS – job losses, training budgets slashed, trusts delaying operations in order to save money and hospital closures announced at the same time as new PFI developments. Added to this the government's fixation with introducing the private sector into primary care which risks destabilising the well-respected UK system of general practice."[16]

In January 2007, Hewitt criticised the pay of general practitioners (GPs) which had increased to an average of £106,000 per annum as a result of the contract the government implemented in 2004. Her department claimed that GPs had unfairly taken money out of their practices, when the new contract was actually intended to increase investment in practices,[17] although statements from Lord Warner in 2004 appear to contradict this claim. He said that "The better services GPs provide, the more pay they will receive, as rewards will be directly linked with patients' experiences."[18]

On 17 March 2007 over 12,000 doctors went to London to take part in a march objecting to the 'Medical Training Application Service' (MTAS), a job application system for junior doctors, which was subsequently subject to an investigation by the Department of Health, and 'Modernising Medical Careers' for revealing the personal data of applicants.[19] The Conservative Leader of the Opposition David Cameron joined the march and gave a speech.

On 23 May 2007, Hewitt survived a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons led by the Conservatives, winning by 63 votes. A number of her cabinet colleagues joined her on the front bench to express solidarity. Despite this, pressure continued to mount on her to resign as Health Secretary.[20]

On 3 April 2007, Hewitt apologised on BBC Radio 4's Today programme saying that the application scheme had caused terrible anxiety for junior doctors. The change offered by the government to the scheme was not accepted by the BMA however,[21] and she was accused of failing to express genuine regret by Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Health.[22] Hewitt also made another apology on 1 May 2007 in the House of Commons[23] after the suspension of the MTAS website due to security breaches which she called "utterly deplorable".[24]

Front line health workers also lobbied against Hewitt, sending her petitions opposing cuts to the NHS and privatisation plans which the Department of Health wished to follow up. Andy Belfield of East Midlands Unison stated that waiting list reductions achieved prior to the 2005 election were now at risk due to the expansion of private sector involvement.[25] A survey from October 2006 showed only 37% of workers from the Department of Health were confident in the leadership provided by Hewitt, compared to 57% across Whitehall.[26]

Despite the criticism, Hewitt managed to balance the books of the NHS, which had previously been in huge debt. After having vowed to resign should the NHS complete another year with debts,[27] Hewitt ensured that the Health Service ended 2006/2007 with a £510 million surplus.[28] However to do this she was forced to cut 17,000 jobs, cut public health spending, although that was previously at a high level, and reduce study budgets for NHS staff.[29] By June 2007, whilst the overall budget was balanced, one in five NHS hospital trusts were still in debt.[30]

As Health Secretary, Hewitt lobbied hard for a complete ban on smoking in public places, which came into force on 1 July 2007. Her predecessor, John Reid had been in favour of limiting the Government's proposed smoking ban as much as possible, and Labour's 2005 election manifesto had included only a limited pledge, proposing to only ban smoking in places where food was served. Even though he had been moved to Secretary of State for Defence, Reid was the main opponent of her proposals, and a leading figure in the decision of the Cabinet to grant an exemption for private clubs and pubs that did not serve food.[31] However, the exemption in the Cabinet proposals did not find favour with MPs and the Government gave them a free vote on the issue. Hewitt voted with the rebels to defeat the Cabinet's partial ban, which was replaced by the outright ban which she had always wanted.[32] Sir Liam Donaldson described the ban as "a momentous move which would prevent the deaths of both smokers and non-smokers."[33] In June 2010, it was announced that there had been a 2.4% decrease in heart attack admissions in the year following the ban.[34] She also called for a tax increase on alcopops, although none ultimately took place.[35] As well as introducing the NHS Choices website.

Hewitt was known as a reliable Blairite within the cabinet and voted loyally with the government in Parliament.[36] However, she notably once broke ranks on the BBC's Question Time, expressing her concern about government plans to introduce ID cards.[37] She ruled herself out of the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party, declaring her support for Harriet Harman, who was the successful candidate. On 27 June 2007 it was announced that Hewitt would not be Health Secretary in Gordon Brown's new cabinet, an announcement which had been widely expected.[38]

Retirement from the cabinet

On 27 June 2007, with the appointment of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, Hewitt announced her retirement from frontline politics, citing 'personal reasons'. On resigning from the cabinet, Hewitt was asked by the Prime Minister to head an EU manifesto group, developing European policy for the next general election manifesto.

After cabinet – consultancies and directorships

In January 2008, Hewitt was appointed special consultant to the world's largest chemists, Alliance Boots. Such an appointment was controversial given Hewitt's former role as Health Minister, resulting in objections to her appointment by members of a Parliamentary committee. Hewitt also become the special adviser to private equity company Cinven, which paid £1.4billion for Bupa's UK hospitals.[39] Hewitt ended both of these appointments in 2010.

Hewitt joined the BT Group board as a non-executive director[40] on 24 March 2008.[41] and retired from the position in 2015 after six years as a director and five as senior independent director and chair of the remuneration committee.

In July 2009, Patricia Hewitt joined the UK India Business Council as its chair and was reappointed to the role in 2014.

Stepping down and suspension from Parliamentary Labour Party

In May 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Hewitt claimed £920 in legal fees when she moved out of a flat in her constituency, stayed in hotels and then rented another flat in Leicester. Claims for furniture included £194 for blinds delivered to her London home.[42] In June 2009 Hewitt announced that she would be stepping down from the House of Commons. She said she was leaving the Commons for personal reasons as she wanted to spend more time with her family.[43]

On 6 January 2010, she and fellow ex-minister Geoff Hoon jointly called for a secret ballot on the future of the leadership of Gordon Brown.[44] The following day Hoon said that it appeared to have failed and was "over". Brown later referred to the call for a secret ballot as a "form of silliness".[45]

In March 2010, Hewitt was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party over the question of political lobbying irregularities, alleged by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme.

At the 2010 general election Hewitt was succeeded as MP for Leicester West by Liz Kendall, who had been her Special Adviser (SpAd) during her time in Cabinet.

Dispatches Lobbyist investigation

Hewitt was one of the MPs named in the 2010 sting operation into political lobbying by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, in which she appeared to claim that she was paid £3,000 a day to help a client obtain a key seat on a Government advisory group.[46] On 22 March 2010, Hewitt, along with Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party over the allegations.[47] Whilst Hoon and Byers were both banned from the House of Commons for five and two years respectively, no further action was taken against Hewitt for her part in the "Cash for Access" affair.[48]

PIE and the NCCL controversy

In February 2014, the NCCL's connection with the Paedophile Information Exchange, an affiliated group during Hewitt's period as the pressure group's general secretary, gained media attention to which Harriet Harman and her partner Jack Dromey also responded. The Daily Mail claimed that Hewitt had accepted submissions from PIE whilst preparing the NCCL's proposals for lowering the age of consent.[49]

On 27 February 2014, Hewitt in a statement apologised and took responsibility for the "mistakes" made, saying NCCL and herself had been "naive" about PIE, whilst insisting she had never "supported or condoned the vile crimes of child abusers"[50]



  1. Roberts, Geneviève (11 October 2005). "'Female champion' Hewitt discriminated against man". The Independent. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  2. Mike Buchanan (29 January 2015). 2015 General Election Manifesto. LPS Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-9571688-4-8.
  3. Who's Who 1987
  4. Oborne, Peter (12 August 2011). "New Labour's toxic legacy". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  5. Oliver Duff "Hewitt's husband: keep your drug addicts off my doorstep", The Independent, 20 February 2007
  6. "Secret State: Timeline", BBC News, 17 October 2002
  7. Haddon, Catherine. "Dr" (PDF). Institute for Government. Institute for Government. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  8. Patricia Hewitt's maiden speech Hansard – 3 July 1997
  9. Journalists paid by UK government to promote Chinese goods UK IndyMedia, 30 January 2010
  10. BT snares former minister Patricia Hewitt The Times, 13 March 2008
  11. Female champion Hewitt discriminated against man The Independent, 12 October 2005
  12. The Hewitt horror show The Times, 16 October 2005
  13. Breeding for Britain Melanie Phillips, 22 September 2004
  14. Doughty, Steve. "Mothers who stay home are a problem". Daily Mail. London.
  15. NHS Cash Crisis The Guardian, 24 April 2006
  16. 2006: the best of years, the worst of years? BMA, December 2006
  17. GP Pay could be capped The Guardian, 19 January 2007
  18. New GP Contract Combines Better Patient Care And Good Value For Money Medical News Today, 2 April 2006
  19. Junior doctors in jobs protests ITV News Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Hewitt survives no confidence vote
  21. Hewitt apology for training chaos BBC News, 3 April 2007
  22. MTAS apology Channel 4 News, 24 April 2007
  23. Hewitt apologises in House of Commons Daily Mail, 1 May 2007
  24. Hewitt attacked over jobs website BBC News, 1 May 2007
  25. Health secretary lobbied over NHS BBC News, 3 March 2007
  26. Survey shows lack of confidence in Hewitt BBC News, 19 February 2007
  27. Hewitt will resign if NHS continues in debt The Guardian, 22 November 2006
  28. Patricia Hewitt Profile The Guardian, 28 June 2007
  29. NHS fears despite books balancing BBC News, 6 June 2007
  30. Do the NHS accounts add up? BBC News, 6 June 2007
  31. Cabinet agrees England smoking ban BBC News, 25 October 2005
  32. Campaigners welcome smoking ban BBC News, 15 February 2006
  33. "England smoking ban takes effect". BBC News. 1 July 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  34. "Heart attack admissions fall after smoking ban". BBC News. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
  35. Borsay, Peter (September 2007). "Binge drinking and moral panics: historical parallels??". History & Policy. United Kingdom. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  36. Patricia Hewitt MP, Voting Record Public Whip
  37. Hewitt reveals split over ID cards Gareth Morgan, Computing, 26 September 2003
  38. Hewitt leaves cabinet health job BBC News, 27 June 2007
  39. "Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt takes lucrative job with Boots". Daily Mail. London. 18 January 2008. Retrieved 18 January 2008.
  40. Costello, Miles (13 March 2008). "BT snares former minister Patricia Hewitt". The Times. London. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  41. "Non-Executive Directors – Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP". Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2008. BT
  42. MPs' expenses: Full list of MPs investigated by The Telegraph The Daily Telegraph, 8 May 2009
  43. Hewitt and Hughes stepping down BBC News, 2 June 2009
  44. Hewitt and Hoon's great gamble The Guardian, 6 January 2010
  45. "Gordon Brown says leadership challenge was 'silliness'". BBC News. 10 January 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  46. Four Labour MPs implicated in 'cash for influence' scandal The Daily Telegraph, 21 March 2010
  47. Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon suspended from Labour party Daily Mail (London), 22 March 2010
  48. Prince, Rosa (9 December 2010). "MPs for hire: three former Labour ministers banned from Parliament". The Daily Telegraph.
  49. "Letters between Patricia Hewitt and PIE reveal that child sex lobbyists 'tried to influence civil liberties group". Daily Mail. 27 February 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  50. "Patricia Hewitt's full statement on the Paedophile Information Exchange", The Daily Telegraph (London), 27 February 2014
  51. Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS. ISBN 1-85811-369-5. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Greville Janner
Member of Parliament
for Leicester West

Succeeded by
Liz Kendall
Political offices
Preceded by
Helen Liddell
Economic Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Melanie Johnson
Preceded by
Stephen Byers
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Alan Johnson
Preceded by
The Baroness Jay of Paddington
Minister for Women
Succeeded by
Tessa Jowell
Preceded by
John Reid
Secretary of State for Health
Succeeded by
Alan Johnson
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