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Points of Order

Volume 708: debated on Tuesday 8 February 2022

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 17 November 2021, the House approved a humble address motion compelling the Government to publish the minutes from or any notes of the meeting of 9 April 2020 between Lord Bethell, Owen Paterson and Randox representatives. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) received an answer to a written parliamentary question that explained that the Department of Health and Social Care had previously released the minutes of the meeting, referring to an attached document containing some heavily redacted notes. But when that very same document was made public in response to a freedom of information request in January 2021, it was with the explicit caveat that they were “draft notes” and that official minutes were not taken and sent to attendees. The Government appear to being arguing with themselves, and not for the first time. Can you offer some assistance to explain whether it is in order for the Health Secretary to describe documents as “minutes” that his own Department has previously denied are minutes? If not, will he be afforded an opportunity to correct the record, explain what status those draft notes have and inform the House once and for all what happened to the formal minutes taken at that crucial meeting?

Then I will try to do the best I can. I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice that she would raise the point of order. The Chair is not responsible for the content of Ministers’ answers to parliamentary questions or for Departments’ responses to freedom of information requests. If the hon. Member believes that there is an inconsistency between the two in this case, there are always ways in which she can press the Department for further information to clarify the matter. Can I suggest that she takes it up with the Table Office for further advice? I hope that those on the Treasury Bench are well aware that this issue has been raised and are able to inform ministerial colleagues. I think we do need the answers: I do not want to keep dealing with the same points of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been given notice that the relevant Minister will make a statement to the House on this year’s GCSE and A-level examinations? As you will know, advance materials were published yesterday, following weeks of uncertainty, the Government’s lacklustre education recovery efforts and concerning reports of A-level grade inflation in private schools. Given the impact on millions of pupils, school staff and parents across England, it is important that the House has an opportunity to scrutinise those developments properly.

Let me first state clearly that I have received no notice from Ministers that they intend to make a statement on this matter. Ministers on the Front Bench will, however, have heard the hon. Member’s point of order and, I hope, have noted his request.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to ask again whether you have had any response from the Prime Minister after the UK Statistics Authority said that the statements that the Home Office, and subsequently the Prime Minister, made on crime were misleading. “Misleading” is not my word—it is the word of the independent chair of the UK Statistics Authority. The Prime Minister told the House

“we have been cutting crime by 14%”—[Official Report, 31 January 2021; Vol. 708, c. 24.]

The Office for National Statistics found instead

“a 14% increase in total crime, driven by a 47% increase in fraud and computer misuse”.

I raised yesterday “Erskine May”, resolutions of the House and the ministerial code, which all record the importance of the Prime Minister correcting the record at the earliest opportunity. This is five days on from the Statistics Authority’s comments. Do you have any guidance on what counts as “earliest opportunity”, as this does not feel like that?

The ministerial code also expects Ministers to abide by the Statistics Authority code of practice which says that people must be “truthful, impartial and independent” in their use of statistics. Given that the Statistics Authority, whose job it is to be independent, impartial and truthful, has said that the Government are being misleading, surely it is now a matter of basic respect for the House and the standards that we all signed up to about not misleading Parliament that the Prime Minister should give us a response.

First, I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving notice of her point of order. I can confirm that I have not had any notification of a statement, or any other response, on this issue.

I am not able to add to the responses to the three previous points of order on this matter. The right hon. Lady has put the point on the record, and I am sure she will find alternative ways to pursue this issue. I recognise it is important that this is heard, and I am sure that the Table Office, or possibly other available avenues, will now be used.