Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 632: debated on Friday 1 December 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have seen that the board of NHS England met yesterday to consider the latest budget settlement for the national health service. It concluded that the underfunding of the NHS now means that it will not be able to continue the 18-week target for treatment. That will mean our constituents waiting longer and longer in pain and distress for operations, and it is also in conflict with the NHS constitution, which is enshrined in statute that was passed by this House. Given the gravity of that decision, can you tell us whether the Health Secretary has given you any indication that he intends to come to the House to explain why our constituents will have to wait longer for elective operations?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, in response to which the answer is no. I have received no indication of any intention by the Secretary of State or another Health Minister to come to the House to make a statement on that matter, but the resources of civilisation have not been exhausted, and the hon. Gentleman will know that there are means by which, through the use of the Order Paper, he can pursue it—I rather fancy that he will do so.

I am saving up the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman)—it would be a pity to waste him at too early a stage of our proceedings.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) was drawn at Question 4 for Monday’s Communities and Local Government questions. Her question was to ask what recent assessment the Secretary of State had made of the effect of changes in local authority funding on the provision of mental health services for young people. Yesterday, she received a letter from the Secretary of State transferring that question to the Department of Health, effectively pulling its from Monday’s business.

Children’s services across England are in crisis, and many mental health counselling and support services for young people are wholly or in part funded by local councils. Local councils are corporate parents and have statutory responsibilities for the mental health of the children in their care. They are often co-commissioners of services, and they have statutory public health, and health and wellbeing responsibilities. What can we do to ensure that that oral question is reinstated so that CLG Ministers can be held to account for what is happening in local government in respect of children’s mental health?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. It was at least in part—I say this in a non-pejorative sense—a rhetorical inquiry. I think that I can say safely, without fear of contradiction—again, non-pejoratively—that he was, on the whole, more interested in what he had to say to me than in anything that I might have to say to him.

Nevertheless, in so far as the hon. Gentleman is genuinely seeking advice—I think that, to an extent, he is—my response is as follows. I appreciate that it is deeply annoying for right hon. and hon. Members if the Department in question transfers their oral question and they therefore lose their slot at Question Time. The Table Office does its best—it always has done in my 20 years’ experience in this place—to advise Members on departmental responsibilities, but ultimately it is for the Government to determine how responsibilities are divided among Ministers and which Department should answer a particular question. I am therefore afraid that it would not be appropriate for me to reinstate the transferred oral. I am advised that the hon. Gentleman might be able to use his ingenuity to find an orderly way to raise his concerns at Question Time on Monday. It will, of course, be open to him to seek to do so, if he is speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) may, for example—I speak hypothetically—seek to air her concerns at topical questions. If she seeks to catch my eye, she may be successful, and if she were successful, any attempt to thwart her would have been thwarted.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the first point of order I have made, but I was so taken aback by this that I felt I should do so. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) referred to peers as vermin in ermine, and I have confirmed that with Front Benchers. I seek your advice as to whether that was unbecoming of this place.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it most certainly was unbecoming of this place and of the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). It was said—as far as I can imagine, because I did not hear it—sotto voce. If it was muttered inaudibly by accident I am, frankly, surprised, because in the short time that the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this place, I have always thought him an articulate fellow who speaks lucidly in terms that are readily audible and intelligible. If, on the other hand, it was a deliberate ruse to blurt these words out in a manner intended not to be heard, but nevertheless to be incorporated in the Official Report, that is unworthy of somebody with the budding aspirations and potential stature of the hon. Gentleman. I hope he will not resort to such a tactic again. We should, seriously, treat each other in this place with basic courtesy. In referring to Members of the other place, it is not appropriate to make that comparison or to draw that analogy. We will leave it there for now.