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Points of Order

Volume 615: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2016

Order. I will come to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), and indeed, most certainly, to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) as well. First, I call Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 14 September, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said at the Dispatch Box, in relation to the debacle that is the handling of tax credits by Concentrix, that people who provided information would receive money in their bank accounts within four working days. It came to my attention on 29 September that that had been changed, and it would be two to three weeks before the information would even be looked at. Furthermore, on 4 October I learned that the four-day system was not even in place.

There are people who are suffering, who cannot feed their children and cannot even send them to school because they do not have money for lunch, and who have to leave their jobs because they cannot afford childcare as a result of this absolute mess. My constituents cannot wait until the next questions session for an answer. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on what tools I can use to ensure that the Financial Secretary comes to the House and clarifies the Government’s position?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order.

What Ministers, and other right hon. and hon. Members, say in the House is, of course, their individual responsibility. If a Minister has inadvertently misled the House, I would expect that Minister to correct the record, and I am sure that the Financial Secretary would do so if she felt this to be the case. She will have an opportunity to hear and study what the hon. Lady has said today.

The hon. Lady asked for my advice on how she could hold Ministers to account for their statements on this matter. The answer is that there are a number of routes that she might usefully follow. However, she may particularly wish to note that a debate on the performance of Concentrix in dealing with tax credit claimants, nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, is scheduled to take place next Tuesday at 9.30 am in Westminster Hall. I confidently predict that the hon. Lady will be in Westminster Hall at that time. Although I will not be chairing the debate, because the Speaker does not chair such debates, I have a keen sense that her chances of being heard on that occasion are pretty high. Meanwhile, she has made her concern clear, and it is on the record. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Leader of the Opposition very kindly wished me well, and I thank him for that; but he went on to imply that in some way I had received special treatment from the national health service. May I say that that is completely outrageous, and is not the case? Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition would like to clarify the position, or even apologise to me and to the NHS workers who worked so well in providing my care.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did no such thing during Prime Minister’s Question Time. I wish the hon. Gentleman well, as I wish everyone else well who is being treated in the national health service. I love and value our national health service because it treats everyone equally, gives everyone the best care that it can provide, and gives everyone the best recovery prospects that are available. I meant no such thing, and I think it is unfortunate if the hon. Gentleman thought that I did.

We cannot continue the debate, but the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who asked his question most powerfully, has raised his concern, to which there has been a response. I cannot be expected to be the arbiter of the respective value of the contributions. The House will be reassured to know that nothing disorderly has occurred.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that the Prime Minister, who has just left the Chamber, asserted that I was in favour of a second Brexit referendum. I never have been, and I am not. I just wanted to set the record straight, and I hoped that she would be able to hear me do so, but unfortunately we have just missed her.

That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is, however, very interesting, notably to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). Because I take an anorakish interest in the pronouncements of each and every Member, it is also of considerable interest to me, so I am very grateful to her for what she has said.

The day would not be complete without a point of order from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you take very seriously your responsibility for protecting the rights of the House. I do not know whether you ever consult Facebook, but if you were to do so, you would find that George Galloway, a former Member of Parliament, still describes himself as a Member of Parliament. Would it not be in the interests of the House to make it absolutely clear to Facebook that he is not a Member of Parliament and should not be claiming that privilege?

It is not my responsibility, but I am perfectly willing to write. He cannot currently be heard in this place. When he was here, he was heard—fully, sometimes loudly and with very considerable eloquence—but he is no longer a Member of Parliament and I am happy to put that on record. If there continues to be ambiguity, or if misleading impressions are given, they must be corrected.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am looking for advice on how to hold the Government to account and get answers from Ministers. On 22 June, I sent a letter on behalf of a constituent to the then Home Secretary. When I got no response, I followed it up but was advised that my letter could not be found. It was then resubmitted to the new Home Secretary on 16 August, but I am still awaiting a response. Similarly, in June I was given notice of a ministerial visit from the Scottish Secretary and told that if I wanted information on the visit, I should respond to the email. I did so immediately, asking what the purpose of the visit was. I am still waiting to hear. Luckily, I was able to find the answer from other sources. Those two examples are unacceptable, and I would appreciate your advice on this matter.

My initial advice would have been to tell the hon. Gentleman to make his point in the presence of the Leader of the House, but he seems to have anticipated me. That is exactly what he has done, and the Leader of the House was listening intently as he raised his concern. There is a responsibility on Ministers to provide timely and substantive answers to questions. Previously, Leaders of the House have chased Government Departments that have fallen down in that regard, and knowing the esteem in which the present Leader of the House holds this place, I know that he will do the same. I hope that that will broker a step change in performance to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman.