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Following on from the article earlier today, Debbie Abrahams was not able to put her question about the deaths of sickness benefit claimants to the Prime Minister – but she did make a point of order, and the response from Speaker John Bercow was… interesting.

The Oldham East and Saddleworth MP told the Commons: “Three weeks ago today, the Prime Minister promised to publish data on the number of people in receipt of employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit who had died since November 2011, including those who had been found fit for work. Indeed, I raised it as a point of order on the same day.

“To date, nothing has been published. These people who died – and their families – deserve better than this. As we are approaching the summer recess, I will be very grateful if you can advise me on how I might expedite the publication of these data — on actual deaths and not just mortality rates as the Government have proposed” [Bolding mine].

Now look at the response: “The short answer to the hon. Lady, whose long-standing interest in this subject is well known, is that she must use the device of questioning, and there are further opportunities for questioning of various sorts between now and when we rise for the summer recess.

“If that method does not suit her, for whatever reason—and sometimes it has to be done more than once, even several times—there will be the opportunity, of course, to offer thoughts in the summer Adjournment debate, though I accept that she might not elicit a substantive reply from the responsible Minister.”

What? Did John Bercow just admit that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is likely to dodge an important question, put to him in the House of Commons on behalf of the citizens of the UK?

Yes he did!

In that case, as far as the electorate is concerned, what is the point of Iain Duncan Smith?

Mr Bercow continued: “Use of the Order Paper and of the various opportunities for oral questioning—she will know that there are a number of different options on that front—would be her best course, and I advise her to try to take it.”

Then Ms Abrahams interrupted, to point out that she has already put her questions “several times” in the manners described.

“As I have sometimes had cause to observe, repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons, and sometimes a Member who has done something several times simply has to resolve to do it again and again—and there will be such opportunities for the hon. Lady on that matter and for other Members on matters that concern them,” said Mr Bercow.

Was he saying that questions which Ministers are required to answer are being ignored?

Yes he was!

This is not the behaviour of a responsible government – or government department.

Debbie Abrahams deserves better, and so do the rest of us.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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