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Parliamentary Questions

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

22. If she will bring forward proposals to provide that hon. Members may only table one question for oral answer to each Government department at each Question Time. (321527)

As I said to the hon. Gentleman in January, the Modernisation Committee concluded that Members should not have to choose between tabling the two types of question. It is for the hon. Gentleman to make representations to the Procedure Committee if he wants to change the way in which topical questions are processed.

Everybody would agree that topical questions are a very good thing, but one of the unintended consequences is that some Members get to ask a Department two questions on one day, while others get no chance at all.

I am in danger of repeating the last answer that I gave on this subject. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but in implementing topical questions, we have not forced a Member to choose between asking a substantive question and asking a topical question. A Member may have a reason for wanting to do both in one sitting. As the hon. Gentleman has said, topical questions are a successful innovation.

It is all very well for questions to be asked and answered, but the Deputy Leader will recall that on 26 November last year during Business questions, she was refreshingly candid in saying that a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions had been rebuked for not answering questions properly—or, rather, was questioned about his accuracy. I note that the Leader of the House has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Questions, but will the Deputy Leader consider publishing a regular list of all offending Ministers with whom there have been meetings, or to whom the Secretary of State has written?

I am not sure that that is necessarily appropriate. We have accepted the Procedure Committee’s recommendations, and in the new Parliament there will be regular monitoring of the number of questions answered later than the conventional answering period of five days. There will also be the possibility that the Procedure Committee can challenge any answers that are considered unsatisfactory. With those two measures, we are feeling our way towards finding improvements. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are very concerned that we should start to get this right. There has been a great deal of action, and to some extent, we will have to wait and see whether it proves to have been good action.

I am afraid that that simply will not do. The Deputy Leader of the House is on record on numerous occasions as having spoken about openness and transparency, but when she has an opportunity actually to do something about it, she fudges the issue. What is the problem with naming and shaming errant Ministers?

I need to make it clear that I am always happy, as is the Leader of the House, to make representations to any Department on any situation that Members want to raise—and I shall leave it there. I have in the past been clear and candid about where steps have been taken. We are talking about working through issues with one Department, and the matter has been addressed.