Points of Order

October EU Council – in the House of Commons at 7:27 pm on 22nd October 2018.

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Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 7:27 pm, 22nd October 2018

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I gave notice of this point of order to the Speaker’s Office this afternoon. It is about the Government’s widespread briefing in today’s papers about them taking new powers and initiatives on grade inflation in universities and whether the Minister for Universities will use the teaching excellence framework to facilitate that without having brought this matter to the House.

Amendment 23C to the Higher Education and Research Act Bill required the Secretary of State to commission an independent review of the TEF within a year of the Act’s commencement, requiring that the review and subsequent review must cover all aspects of the TEF and whether it is fit for purpose. The Government gave me a commitment in writing that they would announce the review by autumn 2018. Despite that, they have failed to bring anything forward on the independent review, yet today they have been briefing the press on their plans to use the TEF for this new purpose, even though they have not even announced its review. In the light of that, is it right for the Department for Education to push out policy changes on the hoof to the media, without coming to the House to give a proper statement?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As ever, he knows, and the House knows, that that is not a matter on which the Chair can rule or take immediate action, but I can well understand from his description of what has happened why he wants to bring the matter to the attention of the House, and by raising this point of order, he has very effectively done so. I hope that the relevant Minister will note what he has said, but if he does not get the response that he hopes to get in the proper way, I am sure that he will raise this matter again with the Chair through one of the orderly ways in which such matters can be raised.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hesitate to raise yet another point of order on the ongoing clinical waste fiasco, especially as Mr Speaker has very generously granted me two urgent questions about it in recent weeks. However, it seems that every time the Minister for Health comes to the House, his statement unravels within days. Last week, he was specifically asked whether it was true that unqualified drivers were driving hazardous waste from Yorkshire to Slough. He did not answer and he said he was not aware of what was happening in Slough. Now we learn, yet again from the Health Service Journal, that Department for Transport officials had in fact granted a special licence for this waste to be transported in this particular way, even though it is in breach of the normal safety regulations. Indeed, just last week another licence was granted—this was before the Minister came to the House—to Mitie to allow it to take waste to Slough, and yet another licence was granted to allow it to take waste to Littlehampton in west Sussex.

The Minister did not say any of this in his statement last week, so could you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, of an appropriate way to express my disappointment and get it on the record? Could you also let me know whether you think that Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care are as clueless as those making decisions in the Department for Transport?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. On this second point, no, I could not let him know whether I think that Ministers are useless or perfect in the way in which they undertake their duties. That is a straight answer from me: no, I could not let him know that.

On the hon. Gentleman’s very important point, he will know, as the House knows, that of course the Chair is not responsible in any way for what a Minister says at the Dispatch Box; that is up to the Minister. I assume that the Minister has said what he has said in good faith, but the hon. Gentleman has an argument with that. He has asked me how he can put his concerns on the record, and again I will give him a straight answer: he has just done so most effectively. I am sure he will get a response from the Minister, and if not, I am sure he will be able to use one of the proper forms of bringing a question of an urgent nature to this House.

We now come to the presentation of a Bill by Mr Frank Field. The notice of presentation has been withdrawn.