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Points of Order

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the past 36 hours, the National Audit Office has reported that the Department of Health and Social Care spent £1.3 billion last year that was not signed off by the Treasury and also incurred £8.7 billion of losses on personal protective equipment. That is a jaw-dropping £10 billion. The report also states:

“The Department was not able to manage adequately some of the elevated risks, resulting in significant losses for the taxpayer.”

Alarmingly, it also says that the Department has still not

“re-established effective controls in all areas.”

Although an Opposition day debate was held yesterday on fraud and Government waste, the NAO report was not released in time for proper questions to be put to the Government. Madam Deputy Speaker, have the Government advised you of whether they intend to make a statement on those damning findings? If not, how may we as Members hold Ministers to account for the waste?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. She knows that the Chair has no power over bringing Ministers to the Chamber, but Members have the power to use the proper means whereby that can be done, such as if a question is considered to be urgent. As the hon. Lady said, there was an extensive debate on this matter yesterday, when the very matters that she refers to were aired fully here in the Chamber, but I appreciate what she says about the timing of the publication of the National Audit Office report. I draw to her attention the ways in which she can ask for advice from the Table Office as to how she might compel a Minister to come to this House. I have at this moment, probably in view of the fact that the debate occurred yesterday, not received any notice of an intention from the Government to bring this matter to the House again in the near future.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Are you aware of a letter from the UK Statistics Authority to the director of data science at 10 Downing Street regarding claims made by the Prime Minister that there are more people in work now than there were at the start of the pandemic? In the letter, the UKSA points out that that claim is incorrect and there are in fact 600,000 fewer people in work than at the start of the pandemic.

I am mindful of what was said by Mr Speaker earlier and that accusations of deceit do not enhance the reputation of this place, but this claim has been made by the Prime Minister on 24 November, 15 December, 5 January, 12 January, 19 January and again today. I believe that the public have a right to expect what is said by the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box to be truthful and accurate. Have you received any notification of an intention from the Prime Minister to correct the record?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for having given me notice of his intention to raise it. As Mr Speaker has said many times from the Chair, and as those of us who occupy the Chair have repeated, the veracity or otherwise of statistics and the interpretation of statistics is the very stuff of political discourse and debate. The hon. Gentleman is right to ask the questions, and I am quite sure that he will find a way of asking those questions directly of Ministers. He is absolutely right to say that it is important that statements made in this House are absolutely correct and true, and if an error has been made inadvertently, I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will note the points made by the hon. Gentleman, and his request for the matter to be looked at again will be referred to the appropriate Minister. There is of course a system for correcting errors and mis-statements, which Ministers and others can use if necessary.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker—for reasons that will become clear, I was not able to give you advance notice of this—it is well accepted that it is at the discretion of the Chair as to how long they run an individual item of business, but that can sometimes cause difficulties for hon. and right hon. Members who want to take part in the following item of business and have to judge when they need to be in the Chamber. Colleagues can be left with the choice of potentially spending a long time in the Chamber at the previous business and so missing important business such as Select Committee sessions, or alternatively running the risk of being late for the start of the next item of business because they were in Select Committee.

Are you aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, of any consideration being giving to amending the practice of the House, possibly by following the example of other Parliaments, so that the timings of important items of business can be known with a bit more predictability? That would allow Members, who have all got very busy diaries, to plan out their working day with a bit more certainty than they can just now.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. There is no need for him to apologise for not having warned me of his intention to raise it, because I have heard that question put on many occasions over several decades. The fact is, and it would be good for people who pay attention to our proceedings to know this, that Members of Parliament have in one day to undertake a huge variety of different duties: attending Committees, asking questions, taking part in debates, meeting constituents and doing a whole range of other duties that we all do diligently.

I am the first to agree with the hon. Gentleman that it can be very difficult to work out a reasonable balance for the working day and manage to fit in, in a timeous way, everything that has to be done, and I can only say to him that one person’s long statement is another person’s late-starting debate. We are in the middle of exactly that situation at this very moment, which is probably why the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter now. The previous statement could have lasted for another half-hour, but my fellow Madam Deputy Speaker decided that sufficient Members had taken part, and the occupant of the Chair has to balance one item of business against another.

The hon. Gentleman makes a plea that I think will be echoed by most of our colleagues, and I can only say to him that Mr Speaker and the Deputy Speakers do understand this. If he seriously wishes that the matter be considered, I suggest he raise it with the Chairman of the Procedure Committee; it would not be unreasonable for it to be raised, but I would be very surprised indeed if the problem were to be solved.

Bills Presented

Air Pollution (Local Authority Audits) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Barry Sheerman, supported by Caroline Lucas, Geraint Davies, Luke Pollard, Helen Hayes, Christine Jardine, Neil Parish and Dame Angela Eagle, presented a Bill to make provision for local authorities to conduct annual audits of air pollution in their area and associated emissions by public and private entities; to require those local authorities to prepare reports on those audits; to require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on those audit reports; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 244).

Ministerial Disclosure (Fixed Penalty Notices) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Alistair Carmichael, supported by Ed Davey, Daisy Cooper, Wendy Chamberlain, Tim Farron, Layla Moran, Christine Jardine, Jamie Stone, Wera Hobhouse, Sarah Olney, Munira Wilson and Sarah Green, presented a Bill to require Ministers of the Crown to disclose that they have been issued with a fixed penalty notice; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 February, and to be printed (Bill 245).