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Points of Order

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance in relation to the Department of Health’s major policy announcement made through the newspapers after the House rose in July that it is out-sourcing to DHL NHS Logistics and most of its purchasing and supply operations worth about £4 billion per annum. The policy was implemented on 1 October, while we were still in recess but was not announced or debated on the Floor of the House. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health on 16 August raising questions of policy and parliamentary accountability, eventually to receive a reply from her Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), dated 16 October—two months later—in which he relied on, and attached a copy of, a letter from his predecessor to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) dated 9 July 2005, saying that a copy could be found in the Library. The Library confirms that a copy of that letter was placed there only on 16 September 2006—a full 14 months after it was written and, intriguingly, a month after my letter and the press coverage in the early part of the most recent recess. I am sure that the House will draw its own conclusions from that, Mr. Speaker, but far from deterring me from smelling a rat, could you advise me as to whether it is for you to investigate the quality of ministerial responses or whether it is a matter for the Leader of the House, in the light of his recent pronouncements about the quality of ministerial responses? I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber today.

It is certainly not a matter for me. The quality of reply is a matter for departmental Ministers themselves, and I am sure that they will take note of what the hon. Gentleman said.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, a Member of the House of Lords used parliamentary privilege to name an alleged victim of rape, despite the fact that the law guarantees any such alleged victim anonymity for life. Regardless of the circumstances of the particular case, surely that will hardly help more rape victims to come forward. If a Member of this House were to use parliamentary privilege in the same way, Mr. Speaker, can you advise whether you would rule him or her out of order?

The hon. Gentleman is raising a hypothetical matter and I do not give rulings on hypothetical matters. I will also not be drawn into the proceedings of the other place.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the importance of scrutiny, one of our basic jobs in the House of Commons, so I seek your guidance as to whether there is a printing error in the second item of business listed on the Order Paper. I see that consideration of the amendments on report of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill is to be concluded, according to the Order Paper, at 9 pm, which allows the House less than a minute per item to consider the amendments. Surely, Mr. Speaker, there must be an error.

There is no error. If the right hon. Gentleman has any complaint he should take the matter to his Whip who will take it up with the usual channels.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. On Friday I received a holding answer from the Minister of State for the armed forces to a straightforward question about the payment of separation allowances to our troops. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the very information that I had requested had been given to a Sunday newspaper by the Ministry of Defence. Although I realise that the Government are rightly embarrassed about the fact that at a time when they are keen to announce operational service bonuses to troops, they are cutting their separation allowances by an even greater amount, is it right that that information should be given to a Sunday newspaper, rather than in answer to a parliamentary question?

I hope that when a Member of Parliament puts down a parliamentary question, it is answered, if the answer is available in the Department. From what the hon. Gentleman says, it was available and it was given to a newspaper. I would rather it was the other way round—that the information was given to an hon. Member. Of course, all questions are then put in the public domain for every newspaper to look at.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), I am grateful to him for alerting me to it, albeit in the Corridor a little earlier. I will follow the matter up with the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I do not know the precise circumstances of the point that has just been raised, but I will also follow that up on your behalf, Mr. Speaker, and that of the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster).