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House of Commons Hansard
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27 March 2018
Volume 638

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on how to get Foreign Office Ministers to respond adequately to Members’ questions, especially when life is at risk. Liam Colgan, from Inverness, has been missing in Hamburg since 10 February and his disappearance is causing his family enormous distress. Despite writing to Ministers a month ago and raising the matter with the Leader of the House in this Chamber, the response still fails to answer the specific questions his family have asked with regard to the support they require to find him and bring him home. How can I get answers from the Ministers on behalf of his family?

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I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I must advise him, with reference to the precise wording of his point of order, that the Chair has no responsibility for guaranteeing what he referred to, namely adequacy. The question of the adequacy or otherwise of a ministerial response cannot be a matter for the Chair, save in so far as the question involves timeliness. Ministerial replies to questions should be timely. Moreover, it is a convention, I think one now generally accepted, that Ministers should provide substantive replies. A continual stream of holding replies—“I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible”—really does not cut the mustard. I think the Leader of the House tends to chase ministerial replies to Members and it is right that that should be so.

More widely, my advice to the hon. Gentleman, seeing as he clearly invests in me great power, potential influence or even wisdom, is to say to him one word beginning with p and ending in t: persist, man! Persist! Persist! Persist in putting down questions and framing them in terms that are so clear that there can be no means, entirely inadvertently of course, of a Minister failing to see the purport and responding thereto.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over many decades through the child migration programmes, the UK Government, churches and charities sent British children in their care overseas. Many of those children were physically, sexually and emotionally abused. They were separated from their families, and they were wrongly told that they were dead. Earlier this month, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published a report that recommended surviving child migrants be paid compensation urgently; many have died and others are seriously ill. Originally the Department of Health and Social Care had lead responsibility for this matter, but when the report was published the Home Secretary published a written statement to this House. When I asked further questions of the Home Office, however, they were answered by the Department of Health and Social Care. I have spoken to the Table Office and we cannot get to the bottom of who is actually responsible. This has made it almost impossible to hold anyone to account. I am concerned that this reflects a lack of urgency and priority to this matter within Government. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how, given the confusion within Government about who is actually responsible, Members can progress this important matter?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. She too, like the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), should persist. She can of course table further written questions. However, given the evident urgency of this matter, not least because of the age and state of health of some of the people involved, my strong advice to her would be to persist in the Chamber. How she does so is a matter for her, but ultimately government is one and indivisible. It is in the interests of the House and of all Members that they should know which Department is handling a matter. It is really quite an elementary principle, but if there is ambiguity about that it must be resolved. The best course of action for the hon. Lady is to seek to raise these matters, perhaps even at the very highest level, in the Chamber.

I hope that the hon. Lady and other Members will take it in the right spirit when I say that my advice is that she should make a thorough nuisance of herself in the Chamber, in an entirely orderly way, by raising the matter as often as is necessary to secure clarification. That might mean raising it tomorrow, at business questions and every day for an appreciable period. That should not be necessary, but if that is what is necessary, that is what she should do. There will always be a friend in the Chair when Members from either side of the House and from whatever party try to pursue matters in that way.