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Points of Order

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 21 December 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order that the promise made by the Under-Secretary of State for Health to publish a review on contaminated blood products before the end of the year has not been fulfilled? My constituent Mr Glen Wilkinson has contacted me in the last hour. He is extremely angry that a group who have suffered so much have been let down again. May I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether you would look into this matter?

Nothing disorderly has occurred. The hon. Lady is dissatisfied, but that is a different matter. She has registered that dissatisfaction, which will have been heard.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In respect of David Quarmby’s report “The Resilience of England’s Transport Systems in Winter”, during Transport topical questions on 2 December the Secretary of State for Transport told the House:

“The findings and recommendations of the review have been implemented, and I have asked David Quarmby to come back and audit their implementation”.—[Official Report, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 955.]

Yesterday, during his statement on severe winter weather, the Transport Secretary told the House:

“Many of those recommendations have already been implemented, although some will necessarily take longer.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 1216.]

Those statements cannot both be accurate. Have you received any request from the Secretary of State to correct the record, given that Ministers have an absolute obligation to tell the truth to the House? If not, would now be a timely moment for you once again to reinforce the point to Ministers that they must correct the record when they get things wrong, even if they do so inadvertently?

I have received no such request from a Minister to make a statement. What has just been said about the importance of accurate statements to the House is true. If there is any inaccuracy, it should be corrected. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am unsighted on the matter and not in a position to act as adjudicator. The point has been made; the point has been heard.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Those of us who have been worried about the future of the nuclear deterrent in the light of some Government decisions will have been heartened by today’s report in The Daily Telegraph that at least one Cabinet Minister has access to nuclear weapons. Have you received any notice, from any member of the Government, of a statement to be made in this House about this welcome augmentation of British military capability?

No, I have received no such indication. I shall take this as a pre-Christmas point of order of the New Forest East genre, and we will leave it at that for today.

With reference to a point that has already been made, let me just say—I am grateful to the Leader of the House for this—that I should perhaps have reminded the House that a written ministerial statement is being made today on the subject of contaminated blood. I simply put that on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. That same Cabinet Minister has also said that the Prime Minister is seeking to abolish the winter fuel allowance. Have you had a request for an emergency debate so that the position can be clarified, in order to prevent millions of pensioners from living in fear this winter?

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 2 December, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport about winter tyres. In his response, he told me:

“We have looked at the issue, and in fact David Quarmby addressed it.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 973.]

He went on to say that the use of winter tyres here was “not appropriate”. When I raised the issue with him yesterday, however, I told him that I could find no reference to winter tyres in the Quarmby report and that his response had been inaccurate, in that the Highways Agency actually recommends them. He replied:

“I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clear something up—I clearly mangled my words in my reply to her.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 1226.]

Is it appropriate to use the phrase “mangled my words” to describe something that was clearly misleading the House, when he should have put the record right? The facts were wrong.

I am not sure that there is a misleading of the House involved, but the point has been made and the Leader of the House is on the Treasury Bench; he will have heard what has been said. If any message needs to be conveyed to the relevant right hon. Member, I feel confident that, as a result of the hon. Lady’s efforts, it will be.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 2 November, in replying to an urgent question on the right of prisoners to vote, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said that no decision had yet been made. He went on to say that once a decision had been made, it would be announced in the usual manner and, in his words, “at the Dispatch Box”. In fact, it was announced last Friday, not even by a leak but by a press release. Before it had been announced to Parliament, a written ministerial statement was issued yesterday, but the announcement was not made at the Dispatch Box. Is there any means of making a Minister honour a commitment that he has made to the House?

There is no means by which to compel or oblige a Minister to follow through on the precise words or commitment previously uttered or given. How a statement is made or a decision is announced by a Minister is a matter for the Minister. However, the hon. Gentleman, who is a perspicacious parliamentarian, has drawn attention to what I would call the disparity between what was said on one occasion and what happened on another.

Further to my previous point of order, Mr Speaker. I note the comment that you went on to make about today’s written ministerial statement. May I just confirm that that written ministerial statement is merely a holding response, and that it is not actually the statement that was promised by the Minister?

I am unsighted on that point, but my additional observation about the written ministerial statement was intended to be helpful. It was not intended to spark a further debate on this occasion.

“Ah!”, says the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I am glad that, even in the approach to Christmas, we can rely on his running commentary, which is richly enjoyed.