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Points of Order

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 25 May 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last week, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced, without making a separate statement, that Hounslow and other local authority areas would be added to the new surge areas, rolling that announcement into his response to the Queen’s Speech debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and I appreciated a call from the Secretary of State’s Minister while the Secretary of State was in the Chamber, but we were subsequently shocked to find out that Hounslow Council had not been directly contacted about the statement at all. The council found out about it when it was phoned by the Evening Standard at lunchtime, ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement. The tone of the conversation sounded not like a journalist fishing but that a journalist knew what was coming.

Today, Hounslow residents have woken up to see the news that the guidance on the Department of Health and Social Care’s website was updated without announcement, causing confusion, and again without communication to the council. One playgroup found out when the staff went to a hall and set everything up and then had to shut it down after 10 minutes. The council leader has said that the

“current communication from Government on our national covid response is woefully lacking”

and impacting on the council’s work to inform and protect local residents. That is despite the Minister saying today, at least twice, that communication between health leaders and councils is essential in keeping people safe and tackling the spread of the virus.

This is no way to treat our constituents. Could you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how MPs can have a proper chance to ask questions on behalf of their constituencies if the Secretary of State is not making statements on significant changes in policy to this House?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. While the Chair is not responsible for the content of statements, Mr Speaker has made it clear that important announcements should be made to the Chamber first. Clearly, what constitutes an important announcement is a matter of judgment, but the hon. Lady has placed her views on the record, and I am sure that Ministers and Whips on the Treasury Bench will have heard her concerns. As she said, Mr Speaker did grant an urgent question earlier today in which similar points were made, but her points will have been added to those, and I am sure she will find other ways to make her concerns known.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last week, I asked the Health Secretary a very simple and honest question about a matter that is of national importance but also of local concern to my constituents, and that is the opening of the Leamington Spa mega-laboratory, a testing facility. The Secretary of State did not give me any answer to that question. I have written many times to his Department asking what is going on. Could you advise how on earth my constituents and all of us are supposed to know what is going on with that project?

I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice that he wanted to raise that point. Of course, I am not responsible for Ministers’ answers in the Chamber, but again, I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have noted his point. I suggest that he pursues the factual answers he seeks through other methods, such as written questions. I am sure that those in the Table Office and other Clerks would be happy to give him advice on the other ways in which he might get the information he seeks.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes, to enable arrangements to be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.