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Points of Order

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2024

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last Friday the Prime Minister made a speech, not to this House, but to the press, describing what he referred to as a “sick note culture”, and implying that people who are economically inactive due to ill health or disability are not genuine, but malingerers. That was grossly offensive not only to people who are unable to work because of ill health but to the clinicians caring for them, as it questioned their professional integrity. It ignored the overwhelming evidence from epidemiologists such as Professor Sir Michael Marmot, which shows that over the last 14 years we have become a sick nation, living shorter lives and less of our lives in good health. It is certainly not the compassionate approach that the Prime Minister said he was going to preside over. Fundamentally, though, it ignored the sovereignty of Parliament. When can we expect the Government to bring the matter to the House so that we can question the Prime Minister on his assertions?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving notice of it. The Speaker has no power to compel the Prime Minister to come to the House. However, it is an important principle, set out in the ministerial code, that when Parliament is in session the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance in Parliament. The Speaker has been clear about that. I am sure those on the Treasury Bench will have noted the hon. Lady’s remarks—I can see them focusing on me—and will feed that back.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I seek your counsel? My Business and Trade Committee now has oversight of arms control, and is stepping up to its duty by holding tomorrow its first hearing on arms exports to Israel. Some 20 days ago, we requested that Ministers from the Department for Business and Trade and the Foreign Office come and give evidence. They did not reply; they had to be chased last week, and on Friday told us they were not prepared to attend. This is a topic of importance to the House, and it is also important that Ministers, in fulfilling their legal responsibility, are politically accountable. What advice can you give me, at this late stage, to try to ensure that we have Ministers in front of the Select Committee tomorrow morning?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me notice of it. Again, attendance by Ministers before a Select Committee is not a matter for me or for the Speaker, but it is certainly true that Select Committees are entitled to expect timely replies from Ministers to invitations. Again, I very much hope that those on the Treasury Bench have noted the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised and will feed them back. My other advice would be perhaps to raise the matter with the Leader of the House, who might be able to assist; I suggest he pursues the matter that way.