Skip to main content

Leader of the House

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Questions

22. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the accuracy of responses to parliamentary questions. (312138)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I keep the quality and timeliness of Ministers’ answers to written parliamentary questions under continuous review. Following recommendations by the Procedure Committee and discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend, the Prime Minister has recently written to Cabinet colleagues reminding them of the importance of answering written and parliamentary questions in a timely way and to an acceptable quality. We are, of course, always happy to make representations to Ministers on behalf of Members.

The number of ministerial corrections in the column headed MC in Hansard seems to be growing. Does that mean that the accuracy of ministerial responses is improving or getting worse?

I have not reviewed that recently, but I am perfectly happy to look into it. Of course, both the Leader of the House and I, and the Procedure Committee, are aware that the number of written questions keeps climbing, and sometimes very large numbers of written parliamentary questions are tabled to Ministers and Departments on the same day. However, if there is interest in checking the accuracy figures, I am certainly happy to do that.

Obviously, I am sure that the deputy Leader of the House will agree that there seems to be a growing problem with Ministers taking the easy option and saying that they do not have the information available. That could be on the salary of chief executives in the north-west or ambulance times, or even a basic question on Monitor. MPs are being denied such information because Ministers are taking the easy line. Will she do something about this?

I am very happy to take up individual examples. The best response to such issues is to say that if Members give me examples of where they have had issues, I will be happy to write to Ministers and have meetings with them and officials, which I have done quite recently.

Question Time

23. If she will bring forward proposals to amend the procedures of the House to prevent hon. Members who have secured a question for oral answer by a Minister from also asking a topical question to the same Minister at the same Question Time. (312139)

When it recommended the introduction of topical questions, the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee concluded that Members should not have to choose between the two types of question. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the Procedure Committee might have to consider the matter further based on the number of Members called on both substantive and topical questions at the same Question Time.

Under the old system, for an hour’s Question Time to a particular Department, each Member of the House got one chance to ask a question. Under the present procedures, some Members get to ask two questions, while others are frozen out altogether. Given the interest of the deputy Leader of the House and her boss in issues of equality, would she be kind enough to look seriously at that?

It would be for the hon. Gentleman to make representations to the Procedure Committee if he wanted to have a change. Members feel that topical questions are quite a good opportunity to raise a question without notice, and they have proved to be one of the most popular innovations, so the issue is difficult. The Leader of the House is not responsible for the fairness of the shuffle, but this issue might be something for the Procedure Committee to look at.