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Points of Order

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 31 March 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Two years ago, the Home Secretary met me, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the deputy mayor for policing and undertook to deport those members of the Rochdale grooming gang who were not British nationals. For two years, I have been trying to get an update. I raised the issue on the Floor of the House in Home Office questions in November, and the Home Secretary indicated to a junior Minister that she would meet me. Having had no meeting, I raised the issue again in Home Office questions in February, and the Home Secretary again undertook to meet me. I have now had a response from the Home Secretary’s office to say that she is too busy and to ask me to meet a junior Minister.

I am not asking you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say whether the Home Secretary is embarrassed, as I am sure she is, about her failure to deliver, or whether she is sufficiently in charge of her Department, which she is clearly not—those are not questions for you—but there is a real issue if any Government Minister gives an undertaking to any hon. Member that they will meet but then ultimately refuses that meeting. That is not accountability, which is what Parliament is about. How can you help me, Madam Deputy Speaker, in my pursuit of a real answer to the needs of the women who are the victims of child abusers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me notice of it. It is absolutely right to say that if a particular Minister commits personally to meeting a Member, that Minister should deliver on that commitment. It certainly sounds as though in this case the hon. Gentleman has being kept waiting for too long for the meeting that was promised. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will act on this exchange and make sure that the hon. Gentleman is offered a meeting with the Home Secretary very soon.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In his opening speech in Tuesday’s Opposition day debate, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General implied to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) that the Government could ignore the motion simply because it was proposed by the Opposition. That motion was unanimously agreed as a resolution of this House, so can you confirm from the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, contrary to the Minister’s suggestion, a motion on a Humble Address is binding and that the Government would be in contempt of this House to refuse to comply with the motion?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for notice of it. As the House has agreed a Humble Address—an effective motion—that should be complied with. In other words, the Government should provide the documents that were demanded. Resolutions of this House have equal force whichever Member moves the original motion. If the only effective motions were ones moved by members of Her Majesty’s Government, Parliament would simply be, in effect, a rubber-stamping exercise and we might as well all go home. I reiterate that such motions should be complied with. I would not want to speculate at this point about whether or not the Government intend to comply—that would be hypothetical—but I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what has been said.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you help us? What is the purpose of having named day questions if one Department—the Department of Health and Social Care—consistently does not comply with the requirement to reply to those questions in a timely fashion, to which the Leader of the House referred earlier? The most recent records show that only one third of the named day questions to that Department are answered on time. I have 12 outstanding named day questions to that Department that have not yet been answered, some of which date back more than five weeks, and we are now on the last day before the recess. What can be done to enforce the rules, particularly against the Department of Health and Social Care? Many of the questions are highly pertinent to people who want information about whether or not it is safe to take the covid-19 vaccine.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. He raises an important issue that the Procedure Committee has looked at, and he might like to draw it to that Committee’s attention. He is quite right to say that the Leader of the House has indicated that Departments should answer questions in a timely fashion. We have just had business questions; it may be that the hon. Gentleman would like to raise the issue at a future session of business questions when the Leader of the House is present.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have raised the issue before—in fact, Mr Speaker granted an urgent question on it and the Minister for Health had to come and answer it—but despite all the pleas from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker in the Chair, the Department does not seem to be responding. I am a member of the Procedure Committee and the statistics to which I referred are the latest statistics reported to that Committee. The question I ask is: what can be done to enforce the rules?

All I can say is that we have to persist, which the hon. Gentleman is clearly doing. He is not alone in his concern about this matter, as he has rightly said. I will ensure that Mr Speaker is aware of this comments. As I said, he might, as a member of the Procedure Committee, like to take the issue back to that Committee as well.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will no doubt be aware that journalists often call the day before a recess the “taking out the trash day”. This morning, we found out that the Government have announced a new policy and consultation, not on trash but on sewage and river pollution. They have not come to the House and, as far as I am aware, they are not making a statement, which means they get to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the matter for weeks.

A plan to deal with sewage is critical: water companies have admitted to discharging raw sewage into our rivers and estuaries more than 372,000 times in the past year. It has happened for 1,000 hours in Whitney, just upstream from my constituency, and for 100 hours in Botley and North Hinksey—and that is in my patch alone. I know the issue worries Members from all parties, so are you aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, of any statement that might come today? If there will not be one, how can we encourage the Government to come to the House and answer questions?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. As she says, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has today published a consultation that is open until Thursday 12 May. Mr Speaker has not had an application from the Department to make an oral statement today.

I say again that the Leader of the House was present for business questions; it would have been very appropriate for the hon. Lady to raise the issue then so that she had direct access to the Leader of the House. I advise her that that would be a good way to draw attention to the point she made. Having said that, those on the Treasury Bench will have heard her. I urge Members who wish to raise points of order after business questions to remember that they have the chance to raise issues directly with the Leader of the House during business questions.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the Government announced an end to free lateral flow tests, the Prime Minister said:

“We don’t need to keep spending at a rate of £2 billion a month, which is what we were doing in January.”

The public could be forgiven for getting the impression that the tests were costing £2 billion every month, but commentators were quick to highlight that the figure for January was probably inflated because of the requirement for people to have two negative lateral flow tests before they could leave self-isolation.

To get to the bottom of how much lateral flow tests were actually costing, I tabled two written questions to the Government to ask for the total amount that lateral flow tests were costing on a monthly basis and over a 12-month period. The Government answered, but refused to give me the data, claiming it was “commercially sensitive”.

It is outrageous that the public are being kept in the dark as to how much lateral flow tests have actually cost the public purse over the past year. I would like the Government to come clean and publish the figures. What is your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how I might persuade or compel the Government to disclose to Members the figures for how much the tests have cost over the past 12 months?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. This is perhaps something that she has already raised, or will in the future, during any statements or urgent questions on the issue. She might like to go to the Table Office to see whether there are other routes that she could pursue. I am not sure whether she was indicating that confusing advice had been given to the House, or that it had not got any advice at all. If it is not getting any advice at all, she might like to go to the Table Office to ask whether there are other ways in which she might like to get this information. She might like to see whether any members of the Health and Social Care Committee or the Public Accounts Committee would be interested in looking into this. Again, I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard her comments and will take back to Ministers her concern that this information is not forthcoming.