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Points of Order

Volume 515: debated on Wednesday 8 September 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Health questions yesterday, the Health Secretary misrepresented my position on NHS Direct. He referred to a Department of Health press release dated 18 December 2009 and quoted partially from it to imply that he is simply implementing my plans. Let me quote a crucial sentence that he left out:

“111 will not replace…NHS Direct”.

By contrast, his Department’s press release of 29 August states:

“NHS 111 telephone number will eventually replace NHS Direct”.

That is a huge change of policy that affects thousands of staff in the NHS and, of course, millions of patients who rely upon the services of NHS Direct every year.

Is it in order for an announcement of that kind to made on the eve of a bank holiday weekend and for no written or oral statement to be made to the House? Will you, Mr Speaker, intervene in this matter to ensure that there is a detailed statement laying out the Government’s plans for NHS Direct, and do you agree that carrying on in that cavalier way is no way to run the NHS or to treat dedicated NHS staff?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The response is as follows. First, it is entirely a matter for the Government to choose the timing, and indeed for the most part, the location of statements that they wish to make. It may well be that Members are unhappy about the timing, but the timing itself was entirely legitimate and proper, so there was no cause for me to intervene on that account.

Secondly, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that in so far as he was—and remains—concerned that his position was misrepresented, the point that he has raised must constitute a point of debate rather than a point of order. He has now very forcefully placed on the record his own position for others to observe. I have a feeling that this very controversial subject, on which there are strong views, is one to which the House and individual Members will regularly return, and it is open to him to do so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is my understanding that you and the Serjeant at Arms have responsibility for the security and safety of Members of Parliament. Given that very serious allegations have been made against a parliamentary pass holder about the tapping of Members’ phones, will you consider whether that pass should be withdrawn until such time as investigations have been concluded, and will you therefore make a statement to the House, perhaps tomorrow before the debate requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) takes place?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is right about my responsibility and I understand his concern on this important issue. However, I must say to him that there is a long-standing and generally accepted practice that we do not discuss security matters on the Floor of the House. In an attempt to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, I may say that if he has a further and specific point that he wishes to raise with the Serjeant at Arms, it is proper for him to do so. It might be best for him to take the matter forward in that way. If he wishes to keep me abreast of developments outside of the Chamber, that is also an option open to him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your earlier statement consequent on the application made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), will there be an opportunity for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to confirm to the House whether Scotland Yard has identified them as persons of interest in the current News of the World investigation?

The hon. Gentleman has made a debating point and I have a feeling that he knows that that is what he has done. We shall leave it at that.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your statement earlier and with the important debate on Afghanistan to be delayed, has there been any indication that the hours of the House will be altered tomorrow?

That is a matter for the Government, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows. That is the simple answer to his question. It may not satisfy him, but that is the situation.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any way in which Members who have waited a long time for the important debate on Afghanistan can stress to the Government, through you, that it would be iniquitous if the debate were to be cut short?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that there is, and he knows it, because he has just taken advantage of the opportunity to relay it to those on the Treasury Bench and we are grateful to him.