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Point of Order

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 24 March 2021

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On Monday, I received a written answer from the Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), to a question about operation waiting times beyond 52 weeks. The response stated that

“This information is not held in the format requested.”

Yesterday, however, the respected publication the Health Service Journal indicated that it had already received this information from NHS England. I have since received a copy of this from the Health Service Journal, and indeed, it is identical to the information I requested. I believe the hon. Member for Charnwood, who I shadow, is a diligent and courteous Minister, but this situation does require significant explanation. I had given him due notice today, and I had hoped he would be able to give us an explanation.

I should also point out that the Department has responded to me on 31 other occasions during the past year stating that it does not hold the information requested, sometimes in response to questions for which I genuinely struggle to understand why it does not have that information, one example being how many patients have been treated in Nightingale hospitals. Certainly, if I were in the Minister’s shoes, I would want to know the answer to those questions. I am therefore seeking guidance from you today, Mr Deputy Speaker, about what avenues are available when I receive answers of this nature where the Department does have, or should have, the information requested.

Thank you, Mr Madders, for having given the Speaker’s Office notice of the point of order you have just made, and you have confirmed that you have told the Minister about it.

It is not for the Chair to comment on the accuracy or completeness of ministerial answers: we all know that that is for Ministers. However, the Government’s own Ministerial Code states that

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.

Therefore, if the Department does hold the information requested, it should provide it. I am sure that the Minister concerned will review the answer and provide further information if appropriate and available. If the hon. Gentleman remains dissatisfied with the answer, he might wish to raise the issue with the Procedure Committee, but I also ask the Whip on duty to ensure that the Minister is well informed of the response that I have just made to this point of order.