A nearly empty House of Commons may not be a sign that no one cares

23rd Jan 2020

Claim

An image from Parliament shows that no Labour MPs turned up to a debate about the NHS.

Conclusion

The image appears to be real, but it comes from an adjournment debate. It is common for MPs (of all parties) to not attend adjournment debates, because they do not involve voting on decisions.

An image that appears to show Nadine Dorries MP in a nearly empty House of Commons on 15 January 2020 has been shared and liked hundreds of times on Facebook. The caption on the image reads, “Tonight, health and social care minister Nadine Dorries faced an empty chamber. Not a single Labour MP turned up. Party of the NHS?”

The image does appear to come from video footage of the House of Commons in the early evening of 15 January this year. However, the implication you might take away from the Facebook post (that MPs who did not attend this debate are uninterested in the NHS) would be based on a misunderstanding about how the House of Commons works.

On 15 January, Mrs Dorries was taking part in an adjournment debate. This is a specific kind of short debate that takes place at the end of the day, which allows a backbencher to raise an issue of concern and get an answer from the relevant minister.

In this case, Mrs Dorries was being asked about the Ockenden Review of maternity care in Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals by Lucy Allan, the Conservative MP who represents Telford. 

The Ockenden Review is important, concerning many possible failures in maternity care. However, the small number of MPs in attendance is not unusual. No votes are cast or decisions made during an adjournment debate, so they are often sparsely attended. By our count from the video, this debate was attended by 11 MPs on the Conservative benches and one MP from the DUP.

Of the six MPs who spoke in the debate, three (Mrs Allan, Owen Paterson and Philip Dunne) were Conservative MPs from Shropshire constituencies served by Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust; one was the minister responding, Mrs Dorries; and another was Jeremy Hunt, who launched the Ockenden Review when he was Health Secretary.

You can read the full transcript of this adjournment debate on Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary debates.

We have covered this issue before, when only 11 MPs attended an adjournment debate on mental health services for young people. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as true because the image is real but needs some context: although the picture does show a health and social care minister facing an almost empty chamber, this was not during a general debate about the NHS.

We aim for our fact checks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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