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House of Commons Hansard
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17 October 2016
Volume 615

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions I raised some serious concerns about the practices of Virgin Care, based on direct experience as a former employee after my NHS service was transferred. Virgin Care has since issued a statement to the media stating that it has no record of my raising such concerns at the time. I am glad it brought that up as its failure to keep accurate records is one of my concerns. However, it is clear that it is implying dishonesty on my part, and I hope you will be able to advise me, Mr Speaker, on setting the record straight in that regard, because I want to make it clear that I did raise concerns on many occasions, including directly with the chief executive of Virgin Care, Mr Bart Johnson, in person at a meeting in the autumn of 2012. This was therefore known at the highest level within the company before it issued its statement suggesting the opposite.

In short, when the company suggested that I was being dishonest, it was trying to obscure the truth. Mr Speaker, may I ask you what resort Members have when the rich and powerful seek to intimidate or smear as we seek to do our duty in this House, and could such actions infringe the privileges of this Chamber?

Finally, can we reiterate that even the richest individuals and the wealthiest corporations should always stick to the truth about this House and its Members, however inconvenient that truth may be to their private interests?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. Moreover, I understand her concern if the veracity of what she volunteered in good faith to the House has subsequently been called into question. Specifically, she asks me what recourse she has in these circumstances. In response, I make a number of points. First, if anybody was seeking to intimidate the hon. Lady as she goes about her parliamentary business, any such attempt has manifestly failed. Moreover, on the basis of my knowing her for the past 17 months, it seems entirely obvious that any such attempt would be doomed to fail. The sooner that point becomes clear to everyone outside the Chamber as well as within it, the better.

Secondly, I think that the hon. Lady has found her own salvation in that she has taken this opportunity to raise a point of order with me on the Floor of the Chamber in which she has registered her discontent as well as putting the record straight in terms that appear to brook no contradiction. If she thinks that any further clarification or airing of the issue is required, various parliamentary avenues are open to her, and I do not doubt that she will pursue them with that combination of forensic precision and terrier-like tenacity for which she has become renowned in all parts of the House.

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Let’s get Richard Branson in here.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for his sedentary contribution to our proceedings, helpful as it was.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This afternoon when I raised the issue of mitigation for the WASPI women during Work and Pensions questions, the Secretary of State indicated that the Scottish Government could deal with the issue by making additional payments to the WASPI women in Scotland. Perhaps unbeknown to us on these Benches, the Government are going to introduce legislation to give enhanced powers to the Scottish Parliament over pensions, but we have not heard about it. I have checked the legislation, and section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 precludes us from making payments on reserved matters and specifically excludes pensions. I am sure that the Secretary of State unwittingly alleged that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government had competence in that area, but I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on what could be done to bring him back to the House or to correct the record in some way.

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The hon. Gentleman is a dogged and assiduous Member of the House at all times, and I say to him that if the Secretary of State judges it necessary to return to the Chamber to clarify the position or seeks to insert a corrigendum in the Official Report, it is open to that Minister to do so. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman has put the record straight with crystal clarity, doubtless to his own satisfaction but perhaps more importantly to that of the constituents whom he seeks to represent.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), saying a few moments ago that he hoped to make an announcement “shortly”. Can you use your good offices to ensure that when he has made his decision, he comes to the House to make a statement?

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I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to ask me that age-old question: “What does ‘shortly’ mean?” As we know, in Parliament the term “shortly” has a degree of elasticity associated with it. The Minister has heard the hon. Gentleman make his point. Before he became a Minister, he was an extremely active and effective parliamentarian who took pride in his responsibility to the House, and I am sure that he continues to do that. It is unimaginable that he would do anything other than come to the Chamber in those circumstances. In so far as the point needed to be underlined, however, it has been duly underlined by the notable campaigner from Leicester. I thank the Minister for his persistence and his courtesy in responding to the urgent question. I gently say to him that, now and again, he said that all he could do was to repeat his previous answer. He said it with great good humour and a degree of world-weary resignation. As I have often had reason to observe in the Chamber, repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. We will leave it there for now.