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Points of Order

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to make this point of order on the important matter of the country’s international development budget. It is unacceptable that we have heard in the media this morning that the Government are seriously giving consideration to reducing that budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income. The UK’s development spending has been the difference between life and death for countless vulnerable people across the world. I seek your guidance, because surely it is unacceptable that, yet again, we are hearing such things in the media as opposed to the Government coming to this House so that we can have a proper debate. If this is going to happen, what options are open to me and other Members to try to rectify the situation and quickly get clarity from the Government? Surely they would have to bring a Bill to the House to reverse this provision.

As I know the hon. Member will expect me to say, that is not a point of order, but of course it is important that she has raised the issue. I hope that the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and the Ministers who now have that responsibility, have been listening to what she said. If there is going to be a policy change, I would expect the House—not the media—to hear it first, as we keep emphasising. It is media speculation at this time. The hon. Member has some good avenues through which to pursue the matter; some named day questions would be a good start. However, I am sure that it is only media speculation. Surely a Government would not use this House as a secondary vehicle, when it should be the primary one.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following on from your reference to named day questions, may I ask what can be done to ensure that we get timely responses to those questions? I have 12 outstanding named day questions to the Department of Health and Social Care, one of which is over six months late. Others are over a month late, including questions the answers to which I think might be of interest to the Prime Minister—for example, about policy relating to those who are immune through antibodies. I have also raised one matter not just as a named day question, but twice during debates on the Floor of the House, when I have asked the Department, and the Secretary of State in particular, for the evidence in support of the assertion made to the House on 1 October that

“hundreds of thousands of deaths…would follow”

if the Government

“just let the virus rip”.—[Official Report, 1 October 2020; Vol. 681, c. 503.]

Where is the answer to the very reasonable question that I submitted?

I know that the hon. Gentleman—as a person of long standing in this House, and great knowledge —knows that there are other avenues to pursue. Let me say once again that it is totally unacceptable for Members of Parliament not to get responses within the named time. The Procedure Committee will be listening to what we have already said, and I know that the Leader of the House is very concerned. The title is “named day questions”, and those questions should therefore be answered as such. It is completely unacceptable for questions not to be answered after six months. I am tempted to say that if there were an urgent question to be asked on the subject of named day questions, one could be tempted.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).