Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence




Members present:

Mr Nicholas Winterton, in the Chair
David HamiltonMs Meg Munn
Mr Eric JoyceMr David Rendel
Ian LucasDavid Wright
Mr Iain Luke

Letter from Mr Graham Allen MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  It is a nonsense in this age of communication that 14 days notice is required by Government. If it were reduced to, say, two working days, questions could be far more topical and Parliament a little more relevant.

  The Committee may wish to consider allowing open questions with two days notice or abolishing notice entirely. This would make questions far more political. Colleagues with detailed or specific questions could ask written questions or write to Ministers. The valuable hour for questions would then focus on the vital issues of the day, Ministers instead of pretending to know each microscopic detail would be held to account for their policies. Colleagues could draw a ballot as now and have two questions or alternatively notify the Speaker that they wanted to ask a question. If colleagues had a technical or detailed point, they could of course give notice to a Minister that they intended to raise an issue so that he or she could get briefed and give a full detailed answer.

  This is Parliament's Question Time (and not Government's) and we need to make it more topical and timely otherwise we will continue to abdicate our responsibilities to the Today Programme or Newsnight.

10 September 2001

Letter from Mr Andrew Bennett MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  Why measure departmental questions by time? Why not go on until number x is reached. Make Ministers speed up answers. Or, best of both, 45 minutes or to question 25. Why not allow opposition one question, with only one hour notice—sometimes very contrived to get topic of day attached to existing question. Instead of Minister grouping questions, why not the Speaker? Why not allow each MP one priority written question per week—that is really priority—ie substantive answer within 12 hours. (Possibly MP would have to convince Table Office it is really a priority for that MP—not a disguised campaign).

  Still too many written questions going down (to prove researchers are doing something, or so-called all party group researchers are doing things). The result is that the process gets slower and slower, poorer and poorer answers and costs more and more. Why not, like oral questions, limit each MP to so many written questions. This is important if e-mail is to be allowed and tabling during recesses. (Good idea but needs regulating). Table Office ought to enforce campaigns rules vigorously—possibly tighten rules as well. Once every 4-6 weeks have extra departmental question time in Westminster Hall—30 minutes—six topics, one each chosen by opposition and government front benches—one by minority parties and three by ballot. Allow more sustained questioning on major issues.

  Questions on Private Notice Questions and statements—Government response or statement to go in lobby at least 1 hour before dealt with on the floor of the house. Then real questions. Obviously Opposition would be able to release counter statement. Neither side would need so long for opening. Possibly give Minister maximum 2 minutes for opening sound-bite.

  Very sad questions not really been reformed for over 30 years—but essential experiments ought to be tried and evaluated before any changes become permanent.

24 January 2002

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