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House of Commons Hansard
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01 October 2019
Volume 664

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if I might seek your advice. My understanding is that Ministers should not knowingly mislead the House. However, during Treasury questions this morning the Chief Secretary to the Treasury implied that the UK was performing well in the cancer survival league tables. This is not correct and creates a false impression. I have checked in the Library and I have the latest article in The Lancet which has a comparative study, and unfortunately the United Kingdom is bottom in all seven categories: cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary. So I really think it is important that the record is corrected, Mr Speaker.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. I recognise, as many other Members will, that he speaks with very considerable personal knowledge and authority on this subject. If memory serves me correctly, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that cancer survival rates were improving. I think that is what he said. The hon. Gentleman has made the point that in respect of the seven most common cancers, the UK is at, or close to, the bottom of a league table. I say with no pleasure that those two statements are not mutually exclusive. However, I recognise that in the context of what is a point of debate, he was very concerned to put his thoughts on the record. He has done so, and that record is there to be studied by people within the House and outside it. I thank him for what he has said.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are aware that the Government’s major attention at the moment appears to be a couple of hundred miles to the north of where we are, but I do think that if Parliament is sitting and we are going to have urgent questions on matters as crucial as today’s, it is beholden on the Government to ensure that if the Secretary of State is unable to attend, the Minister is given the relevant information to be able to ensure that the exchanges can be performed in a way that actually provides information to people watching these proceedings and, crucially, to Members of Parliament. I do not blame the Minister himself, but on the key factor about what the UK has done either with the Iranians or with the Saudi Arabians, he has not been in a position to respond, and I do think that that diminishes these proceedings. I wonder if you are able to get a message to the Government to ensure that people who come to the Dispatch Box are in a position to be able to respond on the key factors that they are going to be asked about.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. The Minister has signalled an interest in responding, and of course I will hear him.

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If I could clarify, Mr Speaker, I said before that the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa was undertaking Army reserve duties, but it was actually Navy reserve duties. It is not the Conservative party conference that is the reason why the responsible Foreign Office Minister is not at the Dispatch Box today.

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That is a helpful clarification and I thank the Minister of State for it. There is no rule on the matter. I say this as much for the intelligibility of our proceedings to observers as for the interest of Members. Who the Government field to respond to an urgent question granted by the Speaker is a matter for the Government. The natural desire and, I think, greater expectation on the part of colleagues that a Minister will be able to oblige is noted by the Chair, and more widely, I think, understood across the House. I think the point will convey itself to Government Whips, the Leader of the House and so on. Meanwhile, the Minister has courteously explained the position, and he did respond to all questions as fully as he felt able to. I genuinely thank him for that.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Yes, indeed—a point of order from Mike Gapes. He certainly knows about Foreign Office matters.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is a genuine point of order. The Minister, in response to me and to some others, said that he would write to us. My question to you, Mr Speaker, is that if there were to be a Prorogation in the next few days, and a Queen’s Speech, what happens in the case where there has been no answer and we have been told that the Minister will write?

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The answer to that is that Prorogation should not affect the moral obligation to keep a promise to send a letter, so if the Minister has volunteered written replies, which in a number of cases he did, the obligation to provide those replies continues to apply, and I am sure that he would expect to do so. As long as a Minister is in office—and one fully expects that he will continue to be in office; one has to work on that assumption as there is absolutely no reason to think otherwise—he will expect to redeem his commitment. I think we will leave it there for now. I hope that is satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman.