On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Deputy Prime Minister to make claims about an issue as important as pensioner poverty and not back them up with any facts whatsoever? If he has inadvertently misled the House, should he not withdraw those claims? [Interruption.]
Order. It is not for me to control who remains in the Chamber. As the hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order, I am sure that he will be interested to hear the reply. I think that I just about heard, amidst the noise, the gravamen of his point, which related to a claim that the Deputy Prime Minister gave an answer that was not based upon fact. I simply say that were the Chair to be held responsible for answers, or even for questions, on account of the presence or absence of facts, the Chair would be even busier than he already is. I think that one has to be reasonable about this. Look, it is a point of debate. I say in the gentlest and most festive spirit to the hon. Gentleman, who was becoming extremely excited and excitable while awaiting the answer to his question, that I have always regarded him to be something of a cerebral academic, and it is most unusual for him to become over-excited. I wish him a very enjoyable Christmas and a happy new year.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When it comes to accuracy, the Deputy Prime Minister appears not to have had a particularly good outing this afternoon. He said during the course of questions that I privatised an NHS hospital when Secretary of State for Health. That is not a point of debate; it is a point of sheer inaccuracy. The contract for Hinchingbrooke hospital was signed under the coalition, and when the previous Government left office there was still an NHS bidder in the competition. Do you not believe that the Deputy Prime Minister might have inadvertently misled the House and that he should return right now to correct the record?
Well, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is his own best advocate, and he has put the position on the record with crystal clarity. If a Minister feels that in the circumstances it would be prudent or courteous to return to the Chamber now or at some other opportunity to correct the record, it is open to that Minister to do so. We will leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The shadow Health Secretary repeatedly says that there was an NHS bidder in the final three that he left. The last three bidders for the Hinchingbrooke contract were Circle, Ramsay and Serco. Could he let us know which of those he thinks is the NHS bidder?
I blame myself. My natural generosity of spirit got the better of me. Because the hon. Gentleman is himself a cerebral academic, as distinguished, I am sure, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont), I rather thought that he might raise a genuine point of order, rather than inappropriately continuing the debate. In future I will know better. The hon. Gentleman might look very serious, but that does not mean that he is not about to abuse our procedures.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Accuracy is important in this House. The Deputy Prime Minister also asserted that the majority of people who would benefit from the increase in tax allowances were women. In fact, the House of Commons Library, which we all take very seriously, has confirmed that the majority of people who will benefit from the increase in tax allowances are men.
I refer to my earlier ruling in respect of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, which was that the Chair is not responsible for adjudicating upon factual accuracy. The shadow Home Secretary has put the position very clearly on the record, and I am sure that the House of Commons Library will be grateful to her.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the last day news has emerged of a large-scale maritime security operation taking place off the Scottish coast. It is doing so in circumstances in which the UK Ministry of Defence is unable to deploy any maritime patrol aircraft and has had to depend on MPA provided by the United States of America, Canada and France. Given the seriousness of the situation, have you been advised by the Ministry of Defence that it intends to make a statement to the House so that we, as parliamentarians, can be informed of the situation?
The short answer is that I have not been so advised. I have received no indication that a Minister intends to make a statement in the way the hon. Gentleman would like and is advocating. However, he has made his point with force and alacrity, and knowing him as I do, I rather feel that if he considers that he has a good point, he is unlikely to let it go, and it is even conceivable that at appropriate points he might repeat it.