Points of Order

Defence Estate – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I do not know how to take that, Mr Speaker.

I have asked the Department of Health several questions on the process by which the Greenwich clinical commissioning group allocated a £74 million contract to Circle Holdings for our local orthopaedic services. In one of my answers from the Department of Health, I was told that there had been local discussions about the impact this would have on other national health services. Investigations I have undertaken into that answer have exposed the fact that this information, which was supplied to the Minister of State, Department of Health by NHS England, is incorrect. He therefore misinformed me in his answer—I accept that he did so inadvertently—as a consequence of the information he was given by NHS England. My point is that in many of the questions I have asked about this process, I have been told that it is a matter for the local NHS, and this dereliction of duty on the part of the Department of Health has even led to NHS England not scrutinising the process properly.

How can we get the record corrected? I will be shocked if you, Mr Speaker, have not heard that the Department of Health wants to make a statement to correct this error. I would like to know how it is going to improve its performance in scrutinising what is going on when such multimillion pound contracts are let.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is to be shocked, but I am afraid that he will be because, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I have received no indication of any intention on the part of the Government to make a statement on this matter in the way and of the kind that he wants. I am grateful to him for giving me notice that he wished to raise the matter. Let me say this: as I repeatedly remind the House, the content of Ministers’ answers to parliamentary questions is a matter not for the Chair but for the Minister concerned. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point has been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will be relayed with alacrity to the Minister of State. If the Minister finds that his answer was inaccurate—that was not altogether clear to me—and therefore essentially agrees with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis, I am sure he will take steps to correct the record. It may be—I am not saying it is—that the Minister takes a different view of the facts of the matter, but I cannot arbitrate between different views. Meanwhile, however—we await events—the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in placing his concern on the record.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I, with my customary delicacy, seek to return to a problem being encountered by the Defence Committee in its bid to examine the worrying plans of the BBC to close Caversham Park and make severe cuts in the BBC Monitoring service? We have been trying to get a relevant Minister from either the Cabinet Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to appear before the Committee and answer key questions on this matter, which is of direct relevance to defence and defence capability in terms of open source information. Is there anything I can do on the Floor of this House within the rules of order to try to add to the moral pressure I am trying to exert on one or other of those Ministers to do their job and appear before our Committee?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that there is and he has identified it, namely to raise in eloquent terms a point of order drawing attention to the failure thus far of a Minister to appear, or apparently to agree to appear, and to register the dissatisfaction presumably both of the right hon. Gentleman in his capacity as Chairman of the Defence Committee and presumably of other members of the Committee at that failure or refusal. The question of whether a Minister appears before the Committee is not in the first instance—and arguably not in the last—a matter for the Chair. However, I have known the right hon. Gentleman now for 33 years, and I am bound to say that if Ministers think they can just ignore his protestations, frankly they do not know him as well as I do. It would be a lot better if they just gave up the unequal struggle and fielded one of these characters—preferably, sooner rather than later—because unless they do, they will not hear the end of the matter.