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Points of Order

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) intervened on me to “set the record straight” on whether one of his constituents secured a contract from the Government related to the covid-19 pandemic. He said that claims of such a contract were

“a fabrication pushed by the Labour party—it is a load of rubbish.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2021; Vol. 704, c. 851.]

Yet today the Good Law Project published evidence indicating that a company called Alpha Laboratories won a contract worth more than £40 million from the Department of Health and Social Care in December 2020, and that this company appears to have subcontracted all the manufacturing of goods to another company, Hinpack Ltd, which appears to be run by his constituent.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek your guidance on whether the right hon. Gentleman should return to the House to set the record straight by withdrawing the comments he made yesterday.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order, and she will recall that I was in the Chair during her exchange with the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). I must ascertain that she has mentioned to him that she intended to raise this matter today.

Thank you for that confirmation. The hon. Lady knows that what is said by one Member to another is not a matter for the Chair. If the facts that have been presented to the Chamber turn out to be wrong, it is incumbent on not only every Minister but every Member to come back to the Chamber at the earliest opportunity to set the record straight. I make no judgment about the facts, because that is not a matter for me. The facts are a matter for debate.

I understand why the hon. Lady wanted to raise the matter. She has done so, and she will know there are various ways in which she can hold Ministers to account for the veracity or otherwise of the facts she is disputing.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am disappointed that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has just gone, because he might have been able to help me with this point of order if you cannot.

I declare my interest, as I have an immunocompromised system and therefore I was very pleased that the Government announced the availability of a third dose for people with conditions such as mine and many others. I am concerned that there has been a lot of confusion between primary and secondary care about who should be advising people of their eligibility.

I therefore tabled a question on 22 October to ask who is responsible for advising people of their eligibility and what the gap will be between a third dose and the booster. The Department of Health and Social Care answered on 27 October saying that it could not answer the question in the required time—that was two months after the policy statement. I asked again on 24 November whether the Government could say who would advise people of their eligibility, and I was told again that the Department could not answer within the required time.

Three months after a major policy announcement, the Government cannot say who is responsible for advising people of their entitlement. Either the Department made a major policy decision without having the administrative arrangements in place to deliver it, or it has the information and is keeping it from Parliament. Neither of those answers is satisfactory, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I wonder whether you can help me get to the bottom of it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this point of order.

Mr Speaker has said on many occasions, and I now reiterate what he said, that Ministers have a responsibility to make sure questions are answered within a reasonable time. It would appear that the questions tabled by the hon. Gentleman have not been answered within a reasonable time, and the answers are relevant, ongoing and important to his constituents and indeed all our constituents. The questions ought to have been answered.

The Procedure Committee is monitoring the record of Departments in answering questions timeously, so the hon. Gentleman might also wish to raise the matter with the Procedure Committee. From the Chair at this point, I sincerely reiterate what Mr Speaker has said on many occasions and I hope the matter will have been noted by the Treasury Bench. The hon. Gentleman’s questions ought to have been answered, and I hope they will be now.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice. Is it acceptable for the Health Secretary to fail yet again to answer a named day question on time? I have had to wait nearly two weeks for an answer to parliamentary question No. 75821. More worryingly, the answer I received is astonishing. In a statement to this House on 7 September 2021, the Prime Minister announced an increase in national insurance to provide additional health and social care funding. In my question, I therefore asked, for each year up to 2024, what impact this

“additional funding for the NHS will have on hospital waiting times”.

The answer came back:

“No formal assessment has been made. “

Given that the House has voted for additional money to be allocated to the NHS, surely either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State should come to this House to explain why the Government have not a clue as to how this additional money will affect waiting times, when there are almost 6 million people on the waiting list.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Once again, it is wrong that questions have been asked and they have not been answered within a reasonable time. Of course, the Chair is not responsible for the content of Ministers’ answers but, again, I suggest two courses of action to him. One is to draw the matter to the attention of the Procedure Committee—I have a bit of a feeling it is going to be busy in this respect because I think this is the sixth point of order of this kind that I have taken in the past few days and I am sure my colleagues have taken more. He also, of course, has the option of consulting the Table Office about ways in which he can bring Ministers to the Chamber to answer the questions. His point is made and I am sure it will have been noted.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to correct the record. The Minister for Care and Mental Health, who has now left her place after the statement, persistently said that there was no White Paper from the Labour Government in 2010. That is patently not true. Our March 2010 White Paper “Building the National Care Service” came out just a few months before the general election. We can send her a copy—I will find one—but it is not accurate to say, when we are talking about these important things, that the Labour Government did not have a plan for social care because we did and it was an excellent plan.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order, which, as she knows, is a point of debate. She says that the Minister was wrong in her answer and the Minister thinks she was right in the answer. I am so happy to tell the House that it is not for me to decide who was right or who was wrong, although in this case it does seem that the facts speak for themselves.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether I might seek your advice. This is relevant to the previous statement. The hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) mentioned yesterday that he understood that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy offered military assistance to Northern Powergrid, but the offer was refused. Northern Powergrid has stated that no such offer of support was made. Although we may all be critical of the Government and some aspects of Northern Powergrid’s response to Storm Arwen, I know that the hon. Gentleman is an honourable person and he would not want to have inadvertently misled the House and the public as to what support has or has not been offered by the Government. I have, as suggested, given him notice of this point of order, but can you advise how the record could be corrected? Is it possible to give the hon. Member, who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber at the moment, the opportunity to correct the record?

This is getting somewhat repetitive, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise his point of order. Once again, what another Member has said here is not a matter for me. Clearly, there are facts in dispute. The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to put his view on the record and I am sure that the hon. Member for North West Durham, to whom I trust he has given notice that he intended to raise this point of order—

Thank you. I am sure that, if the hon. Member for North West Durham considers that the facts were not as he stated but as the hon. Gentleman has just stated, he will use the first opportunity to put the record straight. If not, that is a matter for him and not for the Chair.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), on the Front Bench opposite for giving me notice of her point of order, although she gave me so little notice that I could not get here in time to listen to it. She did, however, provide you with a written copy of it, which I have read. The point I would like to make in response is that that point of order, and the point made in it, demonstrate very clearly that there was no contract between the firm being discussed and the Department or the NHS. Of course, the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS does not have a say in subcontracting arrangements. So what this has done is demonstrated finally and for the record that there was no such contract between my constituent and the Department or the NHS. All this has been looked at by the National Audit Office, which found all to have been done in an orderly way. Finally, no matter how hard Opposition Members look or how deep they dig, all that will be discovered is a lot of people working hard to save lives—that is what was going on.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding to the hon. Lady’s point of order. It is rather unfortunate that he did not have sufficient notice of the point of order. It is a matter for the Chair to make sure that every Member is dealt with in an honourable fashion. The hon. Lady is nodding and acknowledging that she ought to have given the right hon. Gentleman a longer period of notice that she intended to directly criticise him here in the Chamber. But I think we will set that aside because, as I said yesterday, this matter has been dealt with politely and correctly between the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman. There is a difference of opinion, but there is no dishonourable conduct. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for coming as soon as he could to the Chamber to give the facts as he sees them—

The right hon. Gentleman says, “The facts.” It is not for me to make any judgment whatsoever as to the interpretation of the facts. I feel that this matter ought to be at an end and as far as I am concerned it has been dealt with.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This relates to the points of order about the answering of questions. I would like you in the Chair and the Procedure Committee to know that I, too, have tabled questions to the Department of Health and Social Care seeking basic information on budgets, manpower plans and other matters for which it should be accountable to this House, and have not had answers.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his further point of order on exactly that matter. It is a point well made and it needs no further comment from me. However, I am grateful to him for drawing the House’s attention to what he has just said.

Bill Presented

Trade Agreements (Parliamentary Scrutiny and Farming) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Tim Farron presented a Bill to provide for parliamentary approval of trade agreements; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to consider UK agricultural, environmental and animal welfare standards when negotiating trade agreements; to require the Trade and Agriculture Commission to assess the effects of potential trade agreements on farming, the rural environment and animal welfare and to produce associated reports; to require the Secretary of State to lay such reports before Parliament; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 January 2022, and to be printed (Bill 207).