Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 4th July 2017.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 1:19 pm, 4th July 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his final speech in the House, the former right hon. Member for Leigh made the very compelling case that there was evidence for criminal acts having taken place during the contaminated blood scandal, which was of course the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Given that the criminal acts that, allegedly, took place are set out on the front page of today’s Daily Mail, is it appropriate for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and say what action he intends to take? The former right hon. Member for Leigh asked the Secretary of State to indicate whether he was minded to set up a public inquiry into what happened, and said that if that did not take place, he would notify the police of the evidence he had in his possession. Mr Speaker, have you had any indication from the Secretary of State for Health about whether he intends to come to the House to make such a statement?

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

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I have seen the Secretary of State for Health a couple of times today—recently, in the Chamber, and much earlier this morning, when I was returning from my health-giving swim and he was arriving at the House on his bicycle; as the hon. Lady would expect, we exchanged the courtesies of wishing each other good morning. The right hon. Gentleman did not give me any indication that he planned to make a statement on this matter on that occasion; nor has he since done so.

I have to admit that I was not familiar with the headline to which the hon. Lady referred, not least because the organ in question is not part of my daily reading matter. I am sure she will readily understand that it is not ordinarily a paper of any interest to me. However, I must admit that the headline is obviously a very important one relating to a very important story.

I am not aware of any plans by Ministers to make a statement, as I have said, but clearly the issue will not go away. I well remember the final intervention of the then right hon. Member for Leigh, and very powerful it was too. I rather suspect that the hon. Lady will return to this matter, especially if she judges it to be urgent, and she will know what opportunities are open to her to raise matters that she thinks are urgent.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 8 February, I asked the then Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, Mr Jones, about allegations that it was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice that had led the Government to issue a notice to withdraw from Euratom alongside the notice to withdraw from the EU. In response, the Minister told the House that that was not the case, and that

“it would not be possible for the UK to leave the EU and continue its current membership of Euratom.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2017;
Vol. 621, c. 523.]

The former chief of staff to the Secretary of State has now contradicted that statement. He has said that it was in fact the role of the European Court of Justice that lay behind the Government’s decision. Mr Speaker, can you advise me how we can find out the truth of the matter: why are the Government leading us out of the important treaty on Euratom?

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

I do not think it is for me to seek to penetrate the inner recesses of ministerial minds to ascertain their precise motivation in the pursuit of policy. When the hon. Gentleman asks how he should take forward this matter, my short answer is by the tabling of questions, which will probably need to be very precise and focused if he is to elicit the information he seeks. That is my guidance because, although I have indulged him on this occasion—because I could not know precisely what he was going to ask until he had asked it—what he has asked does not constitute a point of order, although it is no doubt of enormous interest and relevance to him and many other Members.

I must advise the House that it is not the responsibility of the Chair to ensure consistency of statements from any Government, or indeed from persons previously connected with a Government. If that were one of the responsibilities of the Chair, a wholly disproportionate amount of his or her time would have to be devoted to keeping up with such matters. The hon. Gentleman has made his concern clear, and that concern has no doubt been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. If a Minister felt that he or she had been inaccurate in statements to the House, that Minister would have a responsibility to set the record straight.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. With your permission, I would like to raise the motion for the 2017-18 estimates on the Order Paper today. I have notified the Government of my intention to raise a point of order. The calling of a general election only two years into a fixed-term Parliament, the resultant hung Parliament, the delay in the elections of Chairs of Select Committees and the fact that no Opposition day debates have been scheduled with only days to go before recess have combined to create an unprecedented situation in terms of the scrutiny of Government finances.

Opposition Members are deeply concerned that the Government are asking Parliament to approve, on a motion tonight, the appropriation of £586 billion without debate, so avoiding what many of us believe to be the proper and correct parliamentary scrutiny of public finances. Such scrutiny is of particular interest to the thousands of public sector workers who are currently receiving mixed messages on pay from the Government. Presumably these estimates, which were published in April, still reflect the public pay cap, and this is also where the money for the Northern Ireland settlement will come from.

Mr Speaker, as custodian of the House and of its long tradition of transparent scrutiny of Government spending since the Bill of Rights in 1689—not you personally since 1689—will you advise me what course may be taken to ensure the appropriate consideration of the estimates?

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

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s recognition that I am not quite that old—that is, it has to be said, heartening. As for his passing reference to the election of Chairs of Select Committees, the House is due to treat of that matter today. It may well be that I will have something to say on that matter today. I share the concern of the hon. Gentleman, and indeed of Members on both sides of the House, that the Chairs of Select Committees should be elected sooner rather than later, and that the Committees should be constituted as quickly as possible, so that they can undertake their important task of scrutiny. Parliament and parliamentarians will always be served by such an approach.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern that the House should be asked to authorise the expenditure of very large amounts of public money without an opportunity for debate, but I can assure him that there is nothing underhand or disorderly about this. It is in accordance with the Standing Orders and the House’s agreed estimates procedure. This is not one of those estimates days on which the House is invited to debate matters recommended by the Liaison Committee before agreeing to the estimates.

That said, it is always open to the House to reconsider its procedures. I am aware that the Procedure Committee recently published a report on estimates procedure—a report to which a Government response is awaited—so there may be an opportunity for the House to look at these matters before too long. I hope that is helpful both to the hon. Gentleman and indeed to the House.