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Points of Order

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2022

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice on how to get a satisfactory response from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions concerning new data from her Department, published last week, which shows that 140 deaths of vulnerable claimants have been investigated since 2019—and these are only the deaths that we know about. It is a scandal that the bereaved families are not made aware of or involved in these investigations, and that we are denied data on the true scale of the deaths. Can you suggest why the Secretary of State is refusing to hold a public inquiry, and what I can do to hold her to account and get one?

The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that I am not responsible for the actions of the Secretary of State. I know, too, that she has put her comments on record, and I hope that those on the Government Front Bench have taken them on board. I am sure that she will also pursue the other avenues that are available to her.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In recent weeks, I have tabled numerous written parliamentary questions on a range of topics, including, the minimum wage for seafarers, a statutory code on fire and rehire, ethnicity pay gap reporting, umbrella companies, and the now vanished employment Bill only for Ministers to tell me that the Bills, drafts, consultations and responses that they have long promised will be published in “due course”. Yet in “due course” never arrives and it appears to be nothing more than a phrase that Ministers use to kick plans into the long grass. May I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on what actions are open to me to ensure that the Government provide a proper response on when publications will be made available, or do I assume that this Government will only care about fighting to protect and uphold the rights of working people in “due course”?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. As he knows, I am not responsible for ministerial answers, but he has put his views on record, and I trust that they will be conveyed to the Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Members, from whichever party and on whichever side of the House they sit, should rightly have their questions answered as early as possible. There is no excuse. We have been through the excuse of covid. We may have a bit of a crisis in Government, but Members should have their letters and questions answered. I do not care from which side of the House they come, this is about respect to this House and respect to the elected Members. I am sure that some of the Ministers who may now be on the Back Benches will also want their questions answered in the future, so, please, take this on board. Do not disrespect the Members of this House. Keep me informed of what goes on.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, and I think you will be particularly interested in this one. You will know, because I informed you and others in the House, that, over the past few days, I have been wearing a very sophisticated air quality monitor. I have to say that the quality of the air in this Chamber is very polluted—well above World Health Organisation standards—but in other parts of the House, where our staff are working, it is twice as bad. It is a seriously polluted atmosphere that we are asking our employees on this estate to work in. We have the summer recess coming up, so may I ask you, Mr Speaker, to see whether something can be done—both in the short term and then in the longer term—to protect the people who work in this Parliament?

I know that the hon. Member has been here longer than anybody I can think of in the Chamber at the moment. He knows the best avenues available to him, and I know that he will already be penning his letter to Sir Charles Walker and the Administration Committee, and I am sure that they will seriously take on board his findings.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Department for Work and Pensions questions yesterday, the Secretary of State challenged the figures that I used about child poverty, asking that I advise where I got them from. That struck me as rather odd, because I got those statistics from her own Department. Today, we hear from the North East Child Poverty Commission that the north-east has overtaken London in terms of having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, at 38%, up from 37% the previous year—that is 11 children in a classroom of 30.

In 2020-21, the north-east continues to see a longer-term trend, with the region experiencing by far the steepest increases in child poverty in the UK in recent years. One third of the north-east’s parliamentary constituencies now have a child poverty rate of 40% or above.

I wonder whether you, Mr Speaker, have heard from the Secretary of State about whether she has since managed to read her own statistics, and if she plans a statement on the worsening of child poverty in my region?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not responsible for the Minister’s answers, nor would I wish to be. I thank him for letting me know that he was going to ask the question. I have had no notice of any statement coming forward on the subject he mentions but, as I say, he has certainly put it on record and I know that people will be listening on the Government side. I am sure that, in future, those points can be corrected if the hon. Gentleman is right. He has put forward the stats and he has put forward his case. I am sure they will be checked and the House will ensure that we have the right record of statistics going forward.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We now have a caretaker Government who have given themselves a self-denying ordinance not to do anything controversial or change policy in any way. Today we have before us, with Report just coming up, an extraordinarily controversial piece of legislation that really should wait for the new, appropriate Government to deal with it in the future. Is there any mechanism whereby this House can delay the Report stage before us today until later in the year, when it can be dealt with properly?

The right hon. Gentleman is another Member who has been here a very long time and knows I am not responsible for the business of the House. I am sure he will take the matter up in different ways and through different avenues. As we all know, he does not give up quite so easily, even though he knows I have not got the power.