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Departmental Question Times

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

7. If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of departmental Question Times in holding the Government to account. (904595)

Departmental Question Times are a valuable opportunity for Members to scrutinise the Government. Topical questions add an opportunity for pressing events of the day to be covered, and of course the Prime Minister is here weekly to answer questions from any Member of the House.

I want to try yet again to stem the growing blight of planted questions from Members on both Front Benches, which has now reached oppressive levels. Back Benchers are treated as though they are in bazaar in Marrakesh, having questions thrust at them—this operates on both sides of the House—and then getting emails to remind them to ask those questions. Parliamentary questions are meant to enable Back Benchers of all parties to hold the Government to account, not to enable games to be played between the two Front-Bench teams. This practice is now extending to planted Adjournment debates and planted Westminster Hall debates and, if we are not careful, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will be seeing planted Back-Bench debates very soon. Will the Leader of the House meet the Speaker and the Chair of the Procedure Committee and have another look at this, so that what should be Back-Bench time can once again be as much about Back Benchers as about Front Benchers, as it was when I first started in this House?

I do not think that the Government should interfere in what Members can or cannot submit as questions. That is for Members to decide—

I can honestly say that I have never been handed a question by a Whip. Dare I say that, on today’s Order Paper, the Scottish National party has tabled two sets of the same question? Members will want to work together in this way to pursue a particular theme. I do not think it is right for the Government to try to tell Back Benchers what questions they can or cannot submit.

Perhaps the most dysfunctional departmental question session is Scottish questions. We have English votes for English laws, but Scottish Question Time is still very much dominated by English Members of Parliament. I have written to the Leader of the House with a few modest reforms that we could perhaps work on, given that we now have English votes for English laws, including the proposal that a little part of that session be devoted exclusively to Scottish Members, to enable us to ask our departmental questions. Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider these modest reforms, and is he in a position to respond to them?

The hon. Gentleman opposed the proposals for English votes for English laws. The Government strongly believe in the United Kingdom, and therefore it is absolutely appropriate for any Member to ask a question on matters that are not devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. That also applies to Welsh and Northern Ireland matters—and, indeed, any matter for which this United Kingdom Government are responsible.