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Points of Order

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could help me to ensure the ministerial code is followed and the Minister corrects the record in the House.

On 17 November, the health Minister, the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), gave misleading information to MPs on the Government’s handling of contracts during the pandemic. The Minister said:

“The National Audit Office has reviewed the testing contract, and it has confirmed that all the proper contracting procedures were followed.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2021; Vol. 703, c. 596.]

That is not correct, and it is severely misleading.

The NAO issued a report on 18 November 2020 evaluating 20 contracts awarded during the early stages of the pandemic. This included multiple covid testing contracts. The NAO’s report concluded that

“we also found specific examples where there is insufficient documentation on key decisions, or how risks such as perceived or actual conflicts of interest have been identified or managed.”

It went on:

“In addition, a number of contracts were awarded retrospectively, or have not been published in a timely manner. This has diminished public transparency”.

A High Court judge found that the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), acted unlawfully in failing to promptly release the details of Government agreements with private firms. The NAO noted that the Government created a VIP lane, where firms were 10 times more likely to be awarded a contract. It found:

“The sources of the referrals to the high-priority lane were not always recorded on the team’s case management system and we found a case where a supplier was added to the high-priority lane in error.”

The NAO reported:

“We found inadequate documentation in a number of cases on how the risks of procuring suppliers without competition had been mitigated.”

The NAO also stated that there were examples of work starting before contracts had been awarded. Given all that evidence from the NAO—

I am really sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but there is so much evidence from the NAO that the Government have not followed procedure, it is vital the Minister come to the House and correct the record, because it is totally misleading, incorrect and wrong.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I appreciate that she wanted to put it in great detail, although I discourage such long points of order. I also appreciate the point she wants to make and that she wants to draw her argument to the attention of the House and to those on the Government Benches, which is perfectly reasonable.

I have to say to the hon. Lady, however, that the content of what Ministers say here in the Chamber is not a matter for the Chair. It may be—it may be; it is not for me to judge—that the Minister considers what she said correct, but that the hon. Lady considers what the Minister said not correct. The hon. Lady has produced evidence from very worthy and dependable bodies challenging what the Minister has said, but that is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a matter for the continuation of the debate. However, the hon. Lady has every right to bring her points to the Chamber. I encourage her to speak to the Clerks and the Table Office, and to consider ways in which she can reopen this very important subject.

I wonder how we are supposed to operate in Parliament if Ministers do not come to the House and tell the truth.

Ah. Now, now, now. We must be very careful here. I am sure the hon. Lady does not want to rise in her place and say that a Minister, whom she has identified, has not told the truth. Will she assure me that that is not what she is saying?

I will accept that. The Minister re-writing history is a matter—[Interruption.] No, I do not need any advice from the Treasury Bench right now, thank you. The hon. Lady is alleging that the Minister is re-writing history. She may make that allegation. I was not happy with her saying that an untruth had been told and I am grateful to her for changing the way in which she has made her point. I am very grateful to her. We must keep moderation here in the Chamber.

I say again to the hon. Lady that what she clearly wishes to do, and it would seem on perfectly reasonable grounds, is reopen the debate. There are various ways in which she can do that. The Clerks and the Speaker’s Office will help her to do so, because it is important that Ministers are held to account, and that if the hon. Lady believes the facts laid before the House by a Minister are not correct, they be corrected at the earliest possible opportunity. The Minister’s colleagues will have heard what I have said and what the hon. Lady has said, and I hope that that will be acted upon. If the hon. Lady needs further advice on how to bring this matter forward, I am more than happy to help her in private.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope my point of order will be moderate and speedy. I believe it relates to a critical issue for the House. A week ago, this House agreed:

“That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty”—

to lay before the House—

“the minutes from or any notes of the meeting of 9 April 2020 between Lord Bethell, Owen Paterson and Randox representatives, and all correspondence, including submissions and electronic communications… relating to the Government contracts for services provided by medical laboratories, awarded to Randox Laboratories Ltd.” —[Official Report, 17 November 2021; Vol. 703, c. 586.]

During the debate prior to that motion being agreed, the Minister present was unable to provide a definition of what was within scope in relation to the solemn commitment made by the House to Her Majesty, and she was unable to reassure the House with a concrete timetable to make good on that commitment.

Madam Deputy Speaker, is it in order for the Government to agree to present an Humble Address to Her Majesty yet not be forthcoming with the vital information required to fulfil that commitment? If not, what action can Opposition Members take to ensure the Government keep their promises to the Crown?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. She is absolutely right to raise this matter. I recollect that the House agreed to the terms of the Humble Address. Mr Speaker would expect the Government to fulfil their obligations under that Humble Address agreed to by the House. I am sure that those on the Government Benches have heard—

I am getting assent on that. I am sure that those on the Government Benches have heard what the hon. Lady very reasonably said. I am quite sure that Mr Speaker will expect the Government to act accordingly and in a timely fashion. If the hon. Lady is still concerned about this matter in a few days’ time and she has not had the action she very reasonably expects, I am quite sure that the Clerks and others will give her advice on how she might pursue the matter in this Chamber.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you will be aware, the proposed demutualisation of Liverpool Victoria and its sale to Bain Capital has generated considerable public concern. The current chief executive of LV is claiming that all the bids LV received would have led to demutualisation and loss of membership rights. I understand that that might not be the full story, and that the tender document issued to Bain and others might have been specifically written with demutualisation in mind. I also understand that the full new board of LV, if the deal goes through, has been approved by the Financial Conduct Authority, but is being kept secret by Bain.

Can you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how to encourage Treasury Ministers to persuade the FCA to publish in full the details of the new board and the tender document, so that our constituents who are members of LV have all the relevant information in front of them before they decide how to vote on the future of LV?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. It is probably not a point of order for the Chair as it does not refer to procedure in the House. However, he is absolutely right to say that the Liverpool Victoria issue affects constituencies across the country. I am well aware of the points that he makes, and I understand and have sympathy with why he wishes to raise the matter in the Chamber. However, as I have advised other colleagues, the Table Office will be able to advise him on how to pursue the matter further with Ministers. If he does so, I am sure that his attempts will be treated with sympathy and understanding.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, I finally received a response from the Government to my named day question on the state of ambulance services in England—a month after I tabled it. The Government stated that all ambulance services in England are at their highest alert level—officially known as resource escalation action plan level 4—and that they have been since 22 October. That means that, for more than a month, every ambulance service in England has been under extreme pressure. We are hearing extremely worrying reports of areas that have run out of ambulances because they are all queuing up outside hospitals. The situation is now so dire that some patients are dying before ambulances arrive, or even in the back of ambulances outside hospitals because there is not enough space in accident and emergency.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would be grateful if you please advised me and other Members of the House on how we can hold the Government to account for the crisis that is facing our health and care system when, as in this instance, the Government have failed to make a statement on the pressures facing our ambulance services and when Members such as me have had to chase the Government twice to get a response to a named day question that should have been answered a month ago.

There were two parts to the hon. Lady’s point of order, one of which was a point of order and one of which was not. The part that is not a point of order is on how she can hold the Government to account. My answer to that, as I have advised others, is that she can take advice from the Clerks in the Table Office on how she might do so, such as by submitting an urgent question, applying for an Adjournment debate or a ten-minute rule Bill, or indeed an Opposition day when she can attempt to hold the Government to account.

On the matter that is a point of order for the Chair, Mr Speaker has said over and over again that he takes very seriously the matter of Government Ministers and Departments answering questions on time. Mr Speaker is very concerned about this matter and has said so many times from the Chair. I simply reiterate what he has said on that. The hon. Member might wish to raise the issue with the Procedure Committee, which monitors the Government’s performance in responding to questions.

Bills Presented

Hate Crime (Misogyny) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Wera Hobhouse presented a Bill to make motivation by misogyny an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing; to require police forces to record hate crimes motivated by misogyny; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March 2022, and to be printed (Bill 200).

Members of Parliament (Prohibition of Second Jobs) (Motion) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Richard Burgon presented a Bill to require the Leader of the House of Commons to move a Motion prohibiting Members of Parliament having paid second jobs; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 December, and to be printed (Bill 201).

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Nadine Dorries, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Dominic Raab, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Michael Gove, Steve Barclay and Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, presented a Bill to make provision about the security of internet-connectable products and products capable of connecting to such products; to make provision about electronic communications infrastructure; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 199) with explanatory notes (Bill 199—EN).