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Points of Order

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. While infatuated with the king’s horses and men in the first world war, the Education Secretary is less keen to talk, at least in detail, about the Kings Science Academy. On 6 January, here in the House, in answer to oral questions, in successive sentences, the Secretary of State—inadvertently, no doubt—misled the House in two important respects. First, he claimed that the police action now being taken at the academy was “a direct result” of his Department’s actions. That is the opposite of the truth. A brave whistleblower caused the police action, and if it had been left to the Secretary of State’s Department, there would have been no police action at all.

Secondly, and most important, the Secretary of State claimed on 6 January that Mr Alan Lewis—a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, no less—was generously taking a reduction in the income of £6 million that the academy was paying him for rent on the site, which he owns. That too is untrue. At the very least, neither Mr Lewis not the Education Secretary will provide a scintilla of evidence in this regard.

The Secretary of State is refusing to answer me, Mr Speaker. I do not think that he will refuse to answer you. Will you bring him here to withdraw those misleading statements?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Before I respond to it substantively, I should say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced parliamentarian, took steps to notify the Secretary of State for Education of his intention to raise it this afternoon.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. As for the substance of his point of order, I simply say to him that every Member of the House is responsible for the accuracy of his or her statements to it. In the event that any error has been made, it is incumbent on the person who makes the error to correct the record. I am not aware of any intention to correct it, but the hon. Gentleman’s point of order has been heard, it is on the record, and I think that, at this stage, the proper thing for me to say is that I wait to see what, if any, response to it there is. We will leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday, the shadow Business Secretary spoke of his concern about the mis-selling of personal accident insurance, and particularly named a company in my constituency, Gee 7 Group, which, he stated,

“specialises in putting together these dubious arrangements for agencies.”—[Official Report, 23 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 434.]

My constituent Mr Jon Pardoe, from the company, has strenuously denied the allegations, in writing and on the telephone, and believes that they have harmed his business and credibility. I very much hope, for the sake of my constituent, that the record can be set straight.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. There was nothing in it on which the Chair can rule, but I see that the shadow Business Secretary is present, and he did indicate to me a desire to respond to it. He now has the opportunity to do so.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to respond to this point of order. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for notifying me in advance that he wished to raise this matter. As the Secretary of State said, he believed that the broader issues I raised in relation to employment agencies were legitimate; he had also been notified of them. In regard to the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I am happy to concede, with hindsight, that it was not fair of me to raise its part in this matter without giving it the opportunity to reply. I regret that, and I apologise to the company for doing it. I am also happy to acknowledge—it is only fair to do so—that it has denied this. I am also pleased that Mr Pardoe has said that, in principle, he disagrees with such arrangements. Beyond that, it would not be proper for me to say anything further, given that the Secretary of State is looking into the broader issue of employment agencies.

I do not think there is anything further to say. In fact, to judge by the nodding of heads that is taking place, I think there is a prospect of a refreshing outbreak of amity.

The afternoon would not be complete without a point of order from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who I am sure is determined not to disappoint us in that regard.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance? Over many years, it has been established that Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools reports to this House, rather than to a Minister. Over the weekend, the chief inspector has spoken of “spitting blood” with rage over suggestions from two think-tanks that Ofsted should be reformed and that he was not doing his job sufficiently well. Given that situation, and the fact that the chief inspector reports to the House, what can we do to protect him and his reputation if the Department for Education is treating him in the way that he seems to be suggesting?

The fact that that story has moved on significantly over recent days seems self-evidently to make it unnecessary for me to comment on the matter at this stage. We will leave it there.