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Leader of the House

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 4 June 2015

The Leader of the House was asked—

Ministerial Statements

1. What guidance he has given to Ministers on making statements to the House before they are made to the press. (900085)

5. What recent guidance he has given to ministerial colleagues on making statements to the House before they are made to the media. (900089)

6. What recent guidance he has given to ministerial colleagues on making statements to the House before they are made to the media. (900090)

7. What recent guidance he has given to ministerial colleagues on making statements to the House before they are made to the media. (900091)

The ministerial code is clear: when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to Parliament. I have reminded my Cabinet colleagues of that.

On 21 May, the Prime Minister, in a speech to journalists outside this House, gave details of every aspect of the proposed immigration Bill, a full week before that Bill was announced in the Gracious Speech last Wednesday. Whatever the view of the Leader of the House on that, is it not better that Members of Parliament are the first to hear a new policy, so that they can either praise it or ask questions about it in this House?

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the House was not sitting at that point, and during the past couple of months political leaders of all parties have made detailed statements to the media about their plans for the next five years; fortunately, only one party is able to put its plans into effect. We will ensure that we continue to treat Parliament with the respect it deserves.

In the previous Parliament, the ministerial code was clear that Ministers should come to the House first, but it was largely ignored. Early signs are that the same thing is happening in this Session. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the code will be published in this Parliament, whether it will be enforced properly and whether Ministers will come to this House and not go to the press first?

The ministerial code will be updated shortly. Labour Members have certainly changed their tune since they were in government. I remember in my first years in this place, when I was in opposition, all those occasions when not only this House but the occupant of No.10 found out in the newspapers what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was doing.

Last week, as many as 17 Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech had already been briefed to the press. I concur with my right hon. and hon. Friends: does the Leader of the House agree that Members of Parliament should be the first to know these things?

Again, with respect to the hon. Lady, all these measures were in our manifesto. Our first Session is about enacting that manifesto, on which we were elected. If she wants to find out more about our plans, she just has to read that document.

I heard what the Leader of the House said about statements that might have been made before this House was in session, but it was on Monday that the Prime Minister announced details of the Government’s Childcare Bill not to this House but to the media. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister was wrong to do so?

That was not a fresh announcement; we set out our plans for childcare weeks and weeks and weeks ago. Simply to repeat things that we have announced weeks ago seems to me to be entirely normal.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a distinguished occupant of his office, but he is not simply the Government’s representative in this House; he is also the representative of this House to Her Majesty’s Government. What will he do to enforce any breaches of the ministerial code with regard to releasing information to the press before this House hears it first?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I do take that very seriously. I regard myself as the Leader of the House representing all Members. Of course, it is a matter for the Prime Minister to enforce the ministerial code, but as I indicated a moment ago, I have already reminded my colleagues about the importance of making announcements to Parliament.

It is important that statements are made to the House first, but it is more important that the policies announced are proper Conservative policies and that when they have been announced, they are seen through by the Government. In that spirit, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will crack on with repealing the Human Rights Act and not shilly-shally over it?

The leaking of information to the press before it comes to the House is increasingly frustrating the public. This question is as much for you, Mr Speaker, as for the Leader of the House: is it not time we started thinking about sanctions for Ministers who indulge in this behaviour—for example, not being able to give the oral statement in the House?

I have no doubt that my colleagues will be making extensive statements to the House about their policy plans, the changes they are enacting and the issues they face. However, given that this is the first Conservative Government for far too long in this country, I ask the hon. Gentleman at least to treat current Conservative Cabinet Ministers as innocent unless proven guilty.

Hours of the House

A large majority of Members are simply unable to get home in the evenings, and we did not come to London to be given lots of free time. As we have so many new Members, may we ask again whether it is the will of the House that we sit later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? I would certainly vote in favour of such a proposal, and I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members would agree with me.

Hon. Members had the opportunity to vote in the previous Parliament, and I suspect that my hon. Friend and I were in the same Lobby at the time. The Procedure Committee revisited the situation, and could do so again if Members made representations to it, but I repeat that the Government have no plans to change the sitting hours of the House.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post; I am sure she will perform extremely well, as she has in other posts. The Procedure Committee considered this matter in the previous Parliament, but does she agree that it would be opportune for the Committee to pick it up again when it is reconstituted, so that current Members can comment on the sitting hours of the House?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I congratulate him on, and welcome him to, his new position too. It is not for the Government to determine the business of the Procedure Committee; it is up to the Members selected to serve on the Committee to do that.