HC Deb 13 November 2001 vol 374 cc713-4 3.30 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given previous notice of this matter. Under the guidelines published by the Cabinet Office in July 2000, Departments are required to disclose sponsorship amounts of more than £5,000 in the departmental annual reports. This year, the Department of Health disclosed that, from various sponsors, it had received £500,000 for the public consultation on the NHS plan. In response to a parliamentary question this week, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), said: The Department funded the NHS national plan consultation leaflet and the public consultation to inform the NHS plan. There were no sponsors involved."—[Official Report, 6 November 2001: Vol. 374, c. 229W.] Mr. Speaker, those two things cannot be right. On which occasion were we misled?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record. It is now up to him to pursue it, perhaps through parliamentary questions.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you prior notice of my point of order, which relates to the ability of Members of Parliament to hold the Executive to account—an ability that I believe Members on both sides of the House consider extremely important. This afternoon the parliamentary ombudsman will lay before Parliament a report entitled, "Access to Official Information: Declarations made under the Ministerial Code of Conduct". That relates to a series of questions that I tabled in the summer of 2000, to try to get declarations out of the Government. I asked each Department on how many occasions Ministers had made a declaration of interest according to the ministerial code of conduct. Each Department, with the honourable exception of the Department for International Development, stated that they were hiding behind exemption 2 of the code of practice on access to Government information. I asked the ombudsman whether that was reasonable—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to be taking a long time. He must raise a matter that the Chair can deal with.

Mr. Robathan

Sir., the ombudsman has found, for the first time, that the Government will not accept his recommendations, and has laid that before Parliament. Mr. Speaker, have you heard from any Minister that a Minister will come to the House to explain why they have defied the ombudsman for the first time?

Mr. Speaker

My answer is no.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely scrupulous and fair in trying to balance the speakers called from both sides of the House during Question Time, and the House greatly values that. I wonder whether you have noticed that Government Whips and Front Benchers are using your very fairness to try to suppress debate, discussion and questioning on the issues that are most contentious, by dissuading their own Back Benchers from rising and by getting them to withdraw questions. Thus today, having grouped three questions, one of which was withdrawn, on the key issue of the shortage of nurses and doctors, so few Labour Members rose—perhaps because they are not interested in the shortage of nurses and doctors—that only two questions from the Opposition could be asked on that key issue. Could you have words with the Whips, Mr. Speaker, about the way that this is handled?

Mr. Speaker

I can take the blame for many things, but not for the activities of the Whips.