Matt Hancock has come under fire for failing to answer questions from MPs about the coronavirus crisis.
The health secretary faced criticism in the House of Commons from the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and MPs over delays in responding to questions surrounding COVID-19.
Sarah Owen, MP for Luton North, said she had submitted a series of questions to the health secretary on issues affecting her constituents, including when he had met with families who had lost loved ones during the pandemic, as well as information on testing, track and trace and the 10pm pub curfew, but had not received any answers.
“It’s our job as MPs to hold this government to account but getting a straight answer out of the health secretary is almost as hard as getting a test at the moment,” she said.
“Therefore, Mr Speaker can you please advise how we’re supposed to get answers from the health secretary to straightforward questions when he won’t reply to letters, won’t reply to our questions and when he’s in the chamber accuses MPs of using divisive language when we just raise our constituents concerns.”
Owen was backed by the speaker, who said it was “totally unacceptable” that MPs weren’t receiving answers to their questions.
He said: “I am getting very frustrated and, quite rightly, members of parliament are getting frustrated by very, very late arrival of answers to questions and in a lot of cases people are still waiting for them.
“It is totally unacceptable. We are the representatives of the electorate. We must get this message through to the government department.
“Your frustration is shared, that’s the worst part of this. This is not an isolated case.”
He said MPs could contact the Commons’ procedure committee, which makes recommendations on the practice and procedure of the House of Commons.
But he also put the blame firmly at the feet of Hancock, adding: “In the end the responsibility lies with the Department of Health and Social Care.
“It is for the secretary of state to ensure his department is more proactive in the answering of letters. I understand that he may have a lot of questions placed to him. In the end, bring the extra staff in, but they must be answered.”
Hancock also came under fire from shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz, who said: “The secretary of state for health and social care throwing himself down on the green benches when he has to come and answer questions – we are still entitled to ask questions, aren’t we?
“Because I’d like to ask the leader of the House where the evidence is that large parts of the North and the Midlands are under lockdown when other areas of higher rates of infection are not?”
She added: “So, can we have an urgent statement from the secretary of state for health on these inconsistent, chaotic decisions? And we need an explanation.”
The health secretary was defended by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who replied: “The right honourable lady moans that we haven’t heard enough from the secretary of state. We’ve had 40 oral statements from the government during the coronavirus pandemic.
“My right honourable friend the secretary of state for health has been an assiduous attender of this House to ensure that we are fully informed.”
He added that Hancock has appeared before MPs “not only when asked”.
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