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Points of Order

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have made the Minister for Community and Social Care aware of my intention to make this point of order. In an answer to my written parliamentary question asking for the number of deaths that have occurred in child and adolescent mental health units since 2010, the Minister said that only one such death had been recorded by the Care Quality Commission. However, freedom of information requests conducted by Inquest have found that at least nine young people have tragically died in England while receiving in-patient psychiatric care since 2010. In response to this research, the Minister stated in an interview on last night’s BBC “Panorama” programme that he did not know how many children and adolescents have died in psychiatric units in recent years. This discrepancy between the Government’s account of the number of child deaths and the data collected from FOI requests raises serious questions about how the deaths in psychiatric care of some of our most vulnerable people are treated, recorded, investigated and learned from.

Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, whether you have received any indication from Ministers that they intend to clarify for the parliamentary record what the accurate figure is for the number of children who have tragically died in all NHS-funded psychiatric in-patient settings since 2010?

Extremely important questions are raised by this matter and by the broadcast, although not for me. We cannot have Question Time on the basis of points of order, but as the Minister of State is in the Chamber and apparently willing to say some words, we are happy—exceptionally—to hear him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to you for allowing me to respond. I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) gave me notice of her point of order. Some very serious questions were raised by the “Panorama” programme last night. I have agreed to meet Inquest’s Deborah Coles, the lady who put in the FOI request. There is a discrepancy in the numbers. There are difficulties in definition in relation to this matter, but the present situation is not acceptable. I will look as quickly as possible at finding a way of correcting the record as soon as we know exactly what the figures are, and at making sure we have sorted out this data problem effectively for the future.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his courtesy. On a personal note, may I wish the Minister very well in that important meeting with Deborah Coles? She is a very formidable character, as I know myself, because we knew each other at university. She is very formidable indeed, and I wish him well.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. We had an excellent team of Ministers here, but we did not have the Secretary of State. The Minister for Europe made the point that the Secretary of State was on the last leg of an overseas visit. I thought it was a convention of this House that Parliament came first and that Secretaries of State should be here for questions unless an emergency took them away from the House—clearly this trip was planned. Will you give guidance to the House on whether Secretaries of State should be on overseas trips when questions to their Department are scheduled?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Things may have changed since I was paying attention to this—it is 25 years since I was a Minister—but in my day, a Minister for the Government spoke with the same authority no matter what rank of Minister they were.

Certainly the team communicate with the House as a team. That is undeniable. This is not within the power of the Chair. The Secretary of State did courteously write to me to notify me that he would be absent. My sense is that he is not likely to be absent on anything like a regular basis. If that were to happen, it would be strongly deprecated not just by the Chair but by Members across the House. Let us hope it does not happen again. If there are no further points of order, perhaps we can move on to the ten-minute rule motion.