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Points of Order

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope to get your advice on an exceptionally serious issue, which has been brought to me by a whistleblower in my constituency, relating to the East of England Ambulance Service. It has been put to me that the service became critically overstretched as a result of high demand on 19 December. At that point, senior operational managers wanted to move to REAP4, which is the highest state of emergency, and seek mutual aid, most likely from the armed forces. However, that decision was not taken until 31 December, some 12 days later. Even then, aid was not requested by senior management.

I have been informed that, during that period, 20 people died in incidents when ambulances arrived late. If that is true, it raises serious questions for the trust and the Government as to why REAP4 was not declared and no aid was sought; what potentially avoidable deaths resulted from those decisions; and, above all, how we can avoid that ever happening again. Given that this is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how I may urgently seek answers to those questions from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. The answer is twofold. First, he should undertake the short journey from the Chamber to the Table Office in order to table such questions—there may be many—to which he seeks answers from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. The hon. Gentleman may already be working on these matters now; if not, I am sure he will apply hot, wet towels over his head as he prepares his line of questioning.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman may seek to consult his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench if he wishes a party view to be taken on this matter and the issue to be pursued not only from the Back Bench, but by his fellow Members of the Front Bench. Meanwhile, he has aired his concern, and it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has come to my attention via a story by Peter Geoghegan on the website The Ferret that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), whom I have informed that I will be mentioning him in the House, may be in breach of the rules concerning the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The hon. Member is listed on the website of the Cobden Centre as a co-founder; and he is listed by Companies House as a director in papers that were last updated only in September. Of most interest to the House would be the centre’s stance on Brexit. Although there is no question that the hon. Member has a pecuniary interest in the organisation, it would seem to me that the directorship of the company contravenes paragraph 55(b) of the guide to the rules on the registration of Members’ financial interests, namely:

“Any other interest, if the Member considers that it might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions or words as a Member in the same way as a financial interest.”

Let me emphasise the next part:

“This might include an unpaid employment or directorship”.

I seek your counsel, Mr Speaker—

Order. I am immensely grateful—I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how grateful I am to him—but I do not think that any further words from him are required. I shall give a response, and then I shall invite the hon. Gentleman concerned to respond, if he wishes.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), of course, for raising this concern, but let us be absolutely clear—I say this for the benefit of Members of the House and those attending to our proceedings—that responsibility for registration or declaration rests with the Member concerned, not with the Chair. If another Member—or, indeed, anyone else, for that matter—has reason to believe that a Member has failed to register or to declare an interest, that person should write to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for an investigation in accordance with procedures approved by the House. Whether a Minister has breached the ministerial code is, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister.

As the hon. Gentleman has raised his point—if I may say so, in some painstaking detail—it seems only fair to offer the hon. Member concerned, the Minister at the Department for Exiting the European Union, the opportunity to reply if he so wishes. I must emphasise that I do not want a precedent to be set here. He is under absolutely no obligation to respond on the Floor of the House, but if he wishes to do so, let us give him the opportunity.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to tell the House that I resigned my trusteeship of the Cobden Centre within days of taking up my post in DExEU, knowing that with the centre’s interest in free trade, in particular, that might be considered relevant. I resigned, if my memory serves me, on 17 June. I very much regret that an administrative error was made by others after my departure, and I have asked them to correct it.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That response was clear. If others wish to continue discussing the matter, they can do so, but they should not do so in this Chamber. I am deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During a debate on the NHS winter crisis last Wednesday, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), misquoted what I said in the course of the debate. I tried to intervene to correct the matter, but he would not take my intervention. He said that I had said that the NHS is a political organisation. I said no such thing. What I did say was that the NHS is a political entity. Had he taken my intervention, I would have explained that the very existence of the NHS, which of course was created by a Labour Government, and the way in which it operates are reliant on the political decisions made in this Parliament. I feel that the Minister owes me an apology, and I also feel that he owes an apology to this House. I wonder whether you could advise, Mr Speaker, on how such apologies may be secured.

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me advance notice of her intention to raise this matter. I will just inquire of her whether she has given notice of this to the Minister concerned.

The hon. Lady should have given notice to the Minister concerned, but I will not dwell on that point; it speaks for itself. Nevertheless, I would say to the hon. Lady that if the Minister feels, having heard what she has said, that he has been inaccurate, it is open to him, and would normally be expected of him, to correct the record. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has made her view of the matter clear, and it is on the record.

I hope that the hon. Lady will not take it amiss if I say that, notwithstanding the importance of the matter that she raises—not least to her—it is not uncommon for Members of this House to be, or to feel that they have been, misquoted or misrepresented. Some of us have some decades’ experience of this. I very gently counsel the hon. Lady, while perfectly legitimately pursuing the matter, if she so wishes, not to allow the matter to disrupt her sleep pattern.