Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Following the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) yesterday, and the response from the Deputy Leader of the House later in the day, I received a letter from the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) outlining the reasons for the delay in answering questions. However, I find it a little incredible that a whole Department and its IT tracking device should find it more difficult to track the 563 unanswered questions than I do as an individual Member of Parliament. That seems to contradict somewhat the evidence given to the Education Committee a number of weeks ago by Lord Hill, who said that the Department was aware of delays in answering questions.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I would say two things. First, it would be unwise for me to speculate on the technology of the matter and what has or has not happened, for the simple reason that I am in no position at this stage to know. Secondly, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s understandable frustration, which he has put on the record and which he might wish to share with his constituents, I think it fair to record that the Deputy Leader of the House looked into the matter extremely expeditiously yesterday and offered a gracious apology to right hon. and hon. Members. I will leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During questions last week to the Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) attacked the Government’s health policy and the role of private provision by claiming

“that at the Christie hospital in Manchester 150 jobs have been transferred from the NHS to the private contractor on that site.—[Official Report, 8 March 2011; Vol. 524, c. 757.]

That is simply not true. I have had written confirmation from the Christie that it is untrue. There has been no transfer of staff from the NHS to the new private partnership. I made the hon. Gentleman aware that I intended to raise the matter as a point of order. May I seek your guidance on whether it would be appropriate for him to apologise to the House for misleading Parliament, and to the Christie for making a false statement about its commitment and outstanding contribution to the NHS?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. If an hon. Member makes a mistake, it is for the hon. Member concerned to decide whether it is necessary to correct what he or she has said and, if so, to decide how and when to do so. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman, who is quite an experienced hand, has offered his verdict clearly. It is on the record and I suspect that he may choose to share it with others. It is open to him to do so, but I cannot get involved beyond that.

Let me say to the House and far wider that if, inadvertently, I misled the House or anybody else on the issue, of course I unreservedly withdraw that claim. Let me make it clear that I would never claim something dishonest about the Christie hospital—not that it was going to close when it was not, and not that staff were being transferred when they were not. If I was wrong, I withdraw those remarks.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As far as I am concerned, certainly for today, that concludes that matter.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As confidence in the safety of nuclear power has been shaken worldwide, and as no nuclear power station has ever been built on time or on budget, should not the House have an opportunity of considering the nature of the review, so that we can include costs and timetable in the likelihood of building new nuclear power stations in this country?

First, the hon. Gentleman may well choose to approach the Backbench Business Committee in pursuit of time to debate the issue. Secondly, I am reminded again by the efforts of the hon. Gentleman why he is the author of that well-thumbed tome, “How to be a Backbencher”. We will leave it there for today.