Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 121 - 139)




  121. On behalf of the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons can I welcome most warmly our witnesses this afternoon, representing, as they do, the Civil Service Unions, the FDA, formerly the First Division Association but now, as I understand it, the FDA stands for nothing except FDA, or maybe I am ill-informed, and if I am I apologise. Jonathan Baume, the General Secretary, who is in the middle, we welcome you, and your colleague Mr Lorimer Mackenzie, Vice-President, you are welcome, and from the Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS, Mr Charles Cochrane, Director of Policy, Information and Research. You will be aware, gentlemen, that our inquiry is into parliamentary questions and the electronic tabling of questions and also parliamentary motions. All of my colleagues will be taking part in this questioning but I am going to begin. Can I put this to you by way of background, could you, please, outline the ways in which parliamentary questions are dealt with within Whitehall, and how this impacts on the staff and the personnel that you represent? Does the Government give any central guidance whatsoever on the mechanics of answering questions or is this left to individual Departments of State? Do you feel the system of preparing answers work efficiently? Jonathan, do you want to start?

  (Mr Baume) Thank you, sir. Thank you for the invitation to come. My sincere apologies if there was any confusion about our attendance, no discourtesy was meant to the Committee, and we are very pleased to have the opportunity to comment. We have submitted a short, written memorandum to help provide some background. I think I will move straight over to my colleague Lorimer Mackenzie, who is a serving civil servant appearing in his FDA capacity and has had very practical experience of this.
  (Mr Mackenzie) I think you may find my detailed knowledge of precise procedures in all departments rather lacking. If there are gaps there they might better be addressed to the departments themselves, who understand these, because departmental practice varies. I have spoken to colleagues in some departments but I can outline the general principles for you. Parliamentary questions are directed to an individual department and there will be a central unit within the individual department which will decide on the allocation of those questions to a policy area for answer. The question is then sent to the people responsible for that subject area, usually the policy experts, for answer. When it lands on the desk of the action officer—different terms in different departments—the person taking the primary action, they will get a piece of paper with the question, the member, the type of question it is and the deadline for answer. There will be varying departmental protocols for the time that that person has to answer the question. When the answer to the question is returned it is returned through the senior management and also through the Minister's office, because the Minister gives the answer to Parliament. The departmental practice on deadlines internally may differ. From the point of view of the individual officer, to a certain extent, the deadlines which Parliament imposes on the process are irrelevant. What happens is you look at the top of the paper and you see the date and the time by which the mechanism within the department needs it and that is your deadline. I would not say it is a matter of indifference to the individual but it does not matter whether there is a one day gap or a two day gap before it goes to the Minister and back to Parliament. For the individual preparing the answer you work on the deadline at the top of the page. When you receive a question, depending on the nature of the question, the compilation of the question and whether it is an oral or a written question one may be able to answer it from one's own experience or one's own knowledge or one may have to bring in a variety of other colleagues. The breadth of the work is obviously far greater when preparing for an oral question. I know you have had a previous session with Members who had been Ministers and they talked about the process of grinding to a halt. I would not want to encapsulate it like that, but open-ended questions require an awful lot of colleagues to become involved in a lot of work in producing supplementary answers for supplementary questions. When the package, whether for a relatively short, straightforward written question or more widespread or wide-ranging for an oral question, is ready it goes back up to the Minister's office to see if the Minister will approve it and the answer will be relayed to Parliament. That, in broad terms, is reasonably standard throughout any department. As to the impact on staff, the impact on staff tends not to be because of the system, as we said in our evidence, it tends to be volume, deadline, peaks and the balance of impact of PQs. Staff who work in areas where Parliament might have a regular interest, where they are likely to be topical all of the time, for instance the Health Service or maybe Transport—which has been particularly topical for some time now—I suspect that the departments concerned would have resources which are allocated because they are expecting a certain level of parliamentary interest, so they will be, to some extent, resourced for. If the flow of parliamentary interest in parliamentary questions is constant it is easily plannable, you can look at the resources and you can allocate them on a fairly regular basis. The difficulties arise when something blows up out of nowhere and the resources, the staff who are working in a particular area then have to deal with a very large, a very understandable series of parliamentary questions and a volume of parliamentary interest. That then has an impact on them, particularly on their work-life balance, which obviously as a Union you have a major wish to protect, it has an impact on those individuals. Over the short-term that is pressure, and I would not want to characterise it as stress, but where it happens regularly, when the work loads, the demands, the volume and deadlines are excessive then it can lead to stress on individual staff, so we are down to fairly normal things like predictability and manageability of work load. It is when it becomes unmanageable and unpredictable the difficulties start, both from the point of view of the person sitting at the desk who is deluged and the ability of that person and the more senior management to manage the resources available to meet the parliamentary demands. Parliamentary work does take a priority which other work may not and there is an impact on other work, which then has to be done in the time left after the parliamentary deadlines have been met. The knock-on effect is something that we also have concerns about. Government guidance for individual departments, there is a central guidance framework which comes from the centre, from the Cabinet Office, but individual departments will tailor that to their needs, usually the mechanistic needs of the individual department procedures may differ. The guidance is in line with the purpose of parliamentary questions to give information or to press for action. Guidance will also be developed in line with practice. If we are looking at supplementaries now the nature of any session, where things may have been difficult or might have worked very well from the point of view of the Ministers or the administration might give us lessons to be learned about how to prepare supplementaries, the form for supplementaries, the form for background notes and Ministerial briefing, all of that tends to be a matter of Ministerial choice and departmental guidance rather than central guidance. Much of the shape of parliamentary practice and answering parliamentary questions tends to be up to the individual department. If there were major issues which were of concern to the House and to your Committee, where you were making recommendations on ways in which things could be handled that would be handled centrally and the departments would amend their parliamentary practice, their departmental practice in line with the central requirements.

  122. Can I just put it again, you have given a lengthy and very constructive reply to my opening question, but do you feel the system of preparing answers works efficiently and clearly as a practising civil servant? I put that question to you and you can give an answer from your own experience?
  (Mr Mackenzie) The system as I have experienced it and as colleagues have—I have spoken to other departments—does work relatively efficiently. I think you are looking at electronic means, and I know you will be talking about electronic means, and there are ways in which efficiency could be improved and there are certain electronic things that would help in that. As far as it goes it is a fairly effective and efficient system. There is a system for answering the PQs as you have at the moment. We have touched on, and no doubt we will return to, the volume of information produced for supplementary parliamentary questions, but I think that is less symptomatic or a factor of the system for preparing answers than the nature of the session in which the answers are given. The system for preparing answers is relatively effective. The volume of material we have to produce for oral questions is, I think, probably a wasted resource. That is more dependent on the demand and the nature of the demand than it is on the system which we live with in preparing the answers.

  123. If we can be absolutely transparent, again for my interest and for my colleagues on this Committee, to prepare answers for an oral question, an oral question to the Prime Minister or to the Secretary of State for health or education how much time would be spent on preparing the range of supplementaries that might be appropriate in connection with a particular question? If you can give us the time and, therefore, perhaps, the cost to the Civil Service I think it would just whet our appetites and help us with future questions?
  (Mr Mackenzie) I have to resort to the fact I do not have statistics, again the departments may have. If I can give you an example, the two are not quite comparable, parliamentary questions and questions to the Prime Minister. Because of the wide range of questions you can ask there is a fairly compendious briefing which is maintained by Number 10 in order to make sure the issues are there, and there is a rolling programme maintaining that. It is because it is so general the level of questioning at Prime Minister's Questions tends not to be as specific. Let me give an example, if a parliamentary question is asked on health, an oral is asked, and it is asked by a particular Member, what the civil servants then do is check to see whether that Member has a particular interest, whether that Member has been asking questions previously, whether there is a known constituency interest, all of these issues are raised in order to try and pull these things together. The nature of the MP may be difficult, there are MPs who have, let us say, a very good record for asking very sensible, pointed and well-researched questions over a period of time. The Father of the House is a very good example of somebody who has asked questions significantly over a period of time. If preparing a question and answer to a Member of that standing with the knowledge of what that person brings to asking a question a civil servant will have that in mind when preparing all of the answers. If there is something which is more straightforward, even if there has been an indication, perhaps, through a political net—I think that was alluded to in previous sessions—where a Member is asking for a particular interest because of a constituency case or because they have a particular interest in the particular subject the briefing might be better contained and might be more detailed because of the nature of being able to whittle it down. I am sorry, that was a how long is a piece of string type answer, but that is the sort of Government you have.

  124. Thank you very much. Could I now pass to Charles Cochrane who may give further information to us on the particular broad subject that I opened with.
  (Mr Cochrane) I will certainly try. Could I say, I am, perhaps, here in two capacities, both on behalf of PCS, which is the biggest Civil Service Union, but I am also the Secretary of Council of Civil Service Unions, which acts for all five, including the FDA. Altogether the unions have about 400,000 members in the Civil Service relevant to this discussion and in non-departmental public bodies. I think a point worth making is that in dealing with parliamentary questions the answer very often comes from part of the Civil Service or even from non-departmental public bodies which are a long way from Whitehall. Certainly some examples which have been drawn to my attention in the past few days as a result of your inquiry—I have to say my knowledge of parliamentary questions and procedures has increased dramatically from a fairly low base in the last few days—is that, picking up a point that Lorimer made, there are parts of the Civil Service and there are non-departmental public bodies which in the normal course of events will not be the usual focus for parliamentary questions and, therefore, a great deal of extra effort will have to go in to try and provide the proper response you want. If I can use a couple of examples, the Public Record Office would probably not be somewhere in the normal course of events which would be the subject of a lot of parliamentary questions, however as a result of the 1901 Census it has been. Incredibly detailed questions have been put down, including questions on the speed of computer servers, and such things, which is extremely important. The Public Record Office cannot, and it would not be proper, of course, have a structured set up to answer that range and that depth of questions on a regular basis and, therefore, that would put increasing pressures on organisations. Also, the questions will go through a number of levels to reach down to the people who will have the detailed information. An example of this would, perhaps, be in the museums and galleries. I think there has recently been questions about how many exhibits are on loan from a national museum—I do not think it matters which one—that would go in the case of England to DCMS, no doubt to the policy people in there and from there on into that department and to the museum. Again, they would not have the set up to answer those in the same way that the Department of Health would, or whatever. I think they, more than most, will suffer from the problem of in many cases not being entirely clear what it is that the questioner is seeking. Lorimer has made this point, if you are dealing with these on a regular basis and perhaps with the same Member asking a range of questions you do build up a knowledge of what is being looked for in the areas, however they do not have that experience. What the solution to that is I am not sure but, perhaps, some understanding that some parts of the Civil Service and the public sector do not have the experience of dealing with these on a regular basis and that some way of helping them in that process by being a bit clearer—dare I say it—and consolidating the odd question into one would be helpful, certainly to our members who have to try and answer them.

Sir Robert Smith

  125. If that is the situation might it not be more productive if they got a letter rather than a parliamentary question that they could respond to?
  (Mr Cochrane) Can I plead guilty to something here? I have done this. In our capacity as trade unions we have often sought information and there are occasions when I would be guilty of encouraging Members of Parliament to ask questions, it is partly prompted by laziness on my part and sometimes, with a bit of effort, the answer is available else where by another method. If I can give you a recent example, something we as trade unions are quite interested in is how health and safety issues are dealt with in the Civil Service—as you may be aware, the law applies differently because of the Crown and there are, therefore, things called Crown notices and Crown central procedures. Traditionally we sought this information by putting down parliamentary questions, which involves all of the procedure we talked about.


  126. And you have answered them!
  (Mr Cochrane) They have been answered. The information is, in fact, available on the Health and Safety Executive website. I suspect, and I think a lot of our members who have to deal with parliamentary questions are increasingly aware of it, that there is a mass of information these days on Government web-sites.

Sir Robert Smith

  127. There is a desire to get things on the record. My perception is that if a department gets, depending on what you are trying to achieve, a letter that explains what you are trying to achieve then in a sense if they want to ignore it or sidestep it they can and then you have to go down the road of lots of questions. In a sense, dealing with that and trying to put together a picture—
  (Mr Cochrane) Absolutely.
  (Mr Mackenzie) Yes, it is a very much better mechanism for certain types of issue, ones where there is a large volume of sequential questions when the purpose of the sequential questions is to get more information and to try and explore a topic in particular detail. PQ answers are not necessarily the sort of mechanism you would use for an expansive or discursive run through a policy. There might also be sensitivities going back to the old PQs where, to use the analogy, part of the supplementaries is knowing what the constituency interest of a particular Member is. If that Member has an interest in a subject generically, let us say, which has been prompted by an individual case, then correspondence, possibly even direct contact with the Minister or through the office with others who could explain it, is probably a far better way of dealing with that. I understand there are precedents in departments where the minister has said that because of the nature of these inquiries, which are broadly individual cases, arrangements have been made and I think for immigration and nationality in the Home Office arrangements have been made for MPs to go directly to the officials because the nature of it means that it is not the sort of thing you want to run through parliamentary questions. It does not help either side. By extension there are subjects of the type you raise which fall into that general type which would be far better done through correspondence or through briefings or other mechanisms because a parliamentary question does not in itself offer a sensible way of doing it for either party.

  128. In a sense though that is private. Do you think there should be a way where either end of the correspondence can agree or maybe pre-agree that it goes into the library or something? You may want it officially on the record so that it is in the public domain in a way that questions put it there, but it wastes a lot of time.
  (Mr Mackenzie) I think the whole purpose of a discursive engagement, let us say, is the fact that you are trying to resolve it to the satisfaction of the member as long as those involved in preparing the answers for a briefing were not thinking they were going to get ambushed later by the fact that it was going to be put into the record somewhere without prior agreement, let us say. The difficulty is that, without trying to characterise the entire Civil Service as very cautious, ministers are publicly accountable and we are accountable to ministers, and if we are briefing for something going into the public domain it has to be absolutely right because of public accountability. As long as everybody understands the ground rules beforehand that seems a far more sensible way than doing it through PQs because then you get a sequence of shorter answers which a Member might not see as helpful, but the minister is constrained because of the nature of parliamentary questions in giving that type of answer.


  129. Can I move on to the second part of what I want to ask you before I broaden it out into members of the Committee and come on to a particular department and a matter that you have touched on? The recent case of major delays in answering parliamentary questions in the Department of Health is clearly an embarrassment to the present Government. An internal investigation, we are all aware, is now under way into this particular case, so obviously I do not want to ask you from the Chair to comment on that particular case, but do you think any general lessons can be learned by what has happened and are improvements needed in the monitoring of the processing of parliamentary questions within Whitehall to bring about a situation in which there would not be a repeat of what has happened in the Department of Health? I am not sure who would want to answer that.
  (Mr Baume) Can I answer initially? I think we are all in some slight difficulty because, as you said, Chairman, there is an internal inquiry and no-one wishes in any sense to prejudice that for individuals. They were taking about 500 PQs a week in the Department of Health, so I have had some initial and relatively superficial acquaintance with what was alleged to have happened, and I do not put that on record for obvious reasons, but PCS certainly are involved in that particular case. It may in the first instance be helpful if Charles were to say something.
  (Mr Cochrane) Thank you, Jonathan.

  130. Are you in the hot seat?
  (Mr Cochrane) Yes. I do not deal with the Department of Health on a day to day basis but I am obviously aware of the issue that you have raised. I think you are absolutely right: there is an ongoing inquiry and it may or may not lead to action against members of staff. Certainly if it did it is likely that they would be represented by PCS, whether they were active or passive participants in this. I do not think it would be right at this stage to say anything that might be right in that particular instance, although, if it would be helpful for the Committee, when that matter is unfurled a little further and perhaps the individual issues have been dealt with we would be happy to let you have a note about any general points.

  131. It would be very helpful.
  (Mr Cochrane) On the other hand, in answer to some of the inquiries we have made over the last few days as a result of coming here today to our colleagues in other departments the comments they have made would equally apply to any of the Whitehall departments, so some of the points we have made already would be just as relevant to DoH as to anywhere else. It would perhaps be wrong at this stage to comment on that one until some of the inquiries have gone further.
  (Mr Mackenzie) I think I will leave that to my colleagues. I do not know what the situation in the Department of Health is with regard to monitoring. That would be for the internal inquiry to look at.

  132. But you would accept, would you not, that it is unacceptable to have the sort of delay that has been experienced? I am not seeking to comment on the precise cases that are being investigated but surely there are some lessons to learn that there should be some specific monitoring of the time that it is taking to deal with questions.
  (Mr Mackenzie) Yes, and as far as I know departments do monitor. The question is, what happened with the systems in this case, which is back to the inquiry itself.
  (Mr Baume) Without treading too far, Chairman, my understanding in that case is,—and I am saying this very carefully, having got into hot water recently—that all of the systems that were there appeared to show that things were being done and it was only when people started to go beneath the surface: "Hang on a minute. Our records appear to show that a particular question has been answered and yet the Member concerned has clearly not received an answer", that people started to think that maybe something had happened. I know the Department are taking this extremely seriously. The very fact that a statement was made by the Secretary of State, which would probably not have been normal in that situation, is an indication that the Department took what appears to have happened extremely seriously and I have no doubt at all that they will be very keen to learn the lessons as well as trying to get to the bottom of the role of individuals and what went wrong. We are in some difficulty, given that there is still a process going on. As Charles has said, we would also want to stand back until the Department has got a bit further down the line of whether it is only an investigation or whether some disciplinary action is warranted. There is a preliminary investigation before deciding whether formal disciplinary charges will be served on individuals. At that point we can come back to this.

  133. I am very grateful. Before I pass on to David Hamilton I want to establish with you as witnesses today that the purpose of our inquiry is to make the whole question of procedure more efficient and effective for Members of Parliament so that they can do their job not only of holding the Government to account and questioning them on matters of considerable importance to themselves, their constituents or the country, but also so that they can follow up individual constituency cases to the full and quickly.
  (Mr Baume) I think it is fair to say that the responses we have had from people raising these issues ourselves has been welcome, the fact that this investigation is taking place and that this inquiry was being held by the Committee. Certainly from an FDA point of view we do believe that there needs to be effective scrutiny of the executive and clearly parliamentary questions play a very important part in that.

David Hamilton

  134. Just before we go on to the questions I have an observation to make. The point that Sir Robert made earlier on about Members having to be on the record and therefore being seen to be doing things is a very important point because sometimes I think, as a relatively new Member, that you must get really bogged down with some very archaic questions coming through which have no relevance whatsoever. I have to say that Mr Mackenzie has put paid to the old argument about Scotsmen giving a very short answer because frankly that was one of the longest answers I have heard. It has covered quite a number of things. Coming in in June last year, I find that people still cannot believe that you have got to put a question in two weeks ahead before you can get a response back. I tell the public that if you want to ask certain questions they have to be there two weeks ahead and then you have to wait for that response coming back. When the Leader of the House came and spoke to us he indicated quite clearly that if questions that were tabled were responded to in a week he would find that that would be reasonable. My question to yourselves is, what would you see as the minimum time if you put a question forward?
  (Mr Mackenzie) It goes back to volume and turnround.


  135. By the way, Mr Hamilton is referring to questions for oral answer.
  (Mr Mackenzie) Yes. Again, it is back to the volume and breadth of preparation. It is back to the supplementaries and the nature of the oral question. If it is for information and if it is straightforward then the information can be got quickly. The nature of the environment into which oral questions is fired is such that you would expect as a Member that the minister would be accountable for a range of subjects which could be followed up with supplementary answers, and they have to be prepared. If you gave 48 hours for it to get through the department, that has got to be through the mechanism, down to the official, the official to prepare it, check with colleagues, produce not a compendious coverage but a range of answers, and back through to the minister who then has to agree them before going before the House, and to give the time for the minister to get the officials to do any more work as necessary to cover interests which the minister might recognise to be the political interest of the Member concerned. All of that would have to take place in a very short period of time. The difficulty about that is that if the House were to decide that you have 24 hours' notice, that would put very significant pressure on the resources in the Civil Service in order to do that and it would also compromise the quality of the answers that you would get because the possibility for me doing my normal job and to pick up a parliamentary question and think of all the answers and the people I need to contact would be very difficult.

  136. Surely there is a balance between a topical question and getting the answer right to the question that has been asked in the first place, which is always followed by a supplementary anyway. The point about a two-week answer period is that you are asking a question and you are anticipating whether in two weeks the question will still be relevant. By reducing the amount of notice that a Member has to give in tabling a question for oral answer means that you are asking questions which are more relevant in many cases to what has happened.
  (Mr Mackenzie) Indeed, and I do not disagree with that and I can understand that two weeks is too long. A week, certainly speaking to our members here, would not cause significant problems but if you go for the same volume in a week you are spreading that requirement across a series of departments and of parts of a department. If the question is more focused and we understand what supplementaries there are likely to be, then the turnround time can be quicker and the quality can remain. The more uncertainty there is in the supplementaries the greater the need for anticipation and professional guesswork, however you want to put it, on behalf of the civil servants, the more people there need to be and the more consideration needs to be given to preparing the package. That is in order to make sure that you get the action for which you are pressing as part of that PQ.

  137. Do you think that there is in parliament a sort of virility symbol in respect of the numbers of questions, not for oral answer, but for written answer? I think of one of my colleagues—I will not name him—who has tabled more than 2,500 questions. Do you think that is a good use of written question procedures or do you think that it is really an advancement of one's political virility, ie, it is a virility symbol that you really are doing your job as a Member of Parliament?
  (Mr Mackenzie) I think I might be able to say that it is not always apparent on receipt of a parliamentary question why that particular mechanism has been used to raise the issue.
  (Mr Cochrane) It would not be proper for us to comment on the virility of Parliament, of course. Certainly the people we have spoken to over the last few days are in the main very conscious of a significant increase in parliamentary questions. That might just happen to be the individuals of whom we asked the question and how they responded, but it would be quite interesting to look at general trends. Certainly, thinking of the example that you have mentioned, one of the things that we are conscious of and our Members are conscious of is what I would call the scatter-gun question, the identical question asked of every department. On a number of occasions it has occurred to us that that is taking place because of a lack of understanding of how government and the Civil Service operates. If I could give you perhaps a slightly old-fashioned example of that, a few years ago a question was put down to almost every department you could think of and probably several that we perhaps were not entirely sure were departments about canteens and catering for staff, a big issue at the time. They all responded in slightly different ways. At that time there was an organisation based in the Treasury called the Civil Service Catering Organisation which could have given the answer, and a much more detailed answer, on behalf of the entire Civil Service. There are numerous examples of that sort of thing that we are aware of. There were some recent questions put down about sickness absence levels in the Civil Service. Again, there are central sources in the Civil Service who can answer that and it strikes me that it would be with a greater understanding, and I am not quite sure where that understanding needs to be,—

  138. Within the Civil Service. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing? If this information is held centrally by the Treasury, should not all the departments have known this and the whole thing been wrapped up in one question?
  (Mr Cochrane) That is a question that it would be interesting to get the answer to. I suspect the system is that the question originates in the House and the Civil Service is obliged to provide an answer to that unless we get into that situation of cost and proportion. I do not think it is for the Civil Service to respond to a question by saying, "You should have asked somebody else".

Rosemary McKenna

  139. You see, I think there is an issue there. The Table Office are very careful about making sure that the question is relevant to the department, is appropriate and is couched in the right terms. I do believe there is a case for them saying, "But that information is available" and indicating. The reason I say that is that I am very concerned about what I call the kind of serial questioning which then appears on the front pages of a national newspaper used to attack other people, to say, "I have asked", or, "So-and-so has asked", or, "This party has asked all these questions and these people have done nothing. They are lazy". I believe that a lot of those questions are created by researchers and not by the Member. Would you think it would be an appropriate mechanism for the Table Office to be able to point the Member, when the question is presented, to a source of the answer to that information?
  (Mr Mackenzie) Yes, and it would be worthwhile pointing out now that the FDA not only represents civil servants but also the Clerks and staff of the House. The feedback which we have had from departments is that the staff are very helpful from the point of view of departments in making sure things are properly directed. With regard to referring Members elsewhere, I think the Table Office does that at the moment and colleagues and civil servants in the departments are very grateful for the fact that there is a significant sift mechanism in that environment. I know from reading the transcript of the previous Members' evidence that they are very grateful for the help that the Table Office gives in giving them guidance on how to ask questions which go to departments. A mechanism which points to Members individually and says that the information is available elsewhere is very sensible. Going further than that, the Table Office might usefully do that, but I also think that ministers might be somewhat constrained in using the same line because they do want to be helpful. I think it would be very sensible if there was a greater culture on both sides—the minister giving the answer and the House accepting the answer—for the answer to say, "Please look at our web site", we are allowed to do this but there is less usage of it, or, "The House of Commons library has this". That would help. At the risk of sounding slightly facetious, I note from the previous evidence that there is an understanding by the Committee and MPs that researchers are being used to generate a large number of questions. The nature of the title suggests that before generating a question they might do the research first and then put the question if they find it is not in the public domain.
  (Mr Cochrane) Perhaps I should add that many of our best friends are researchers.

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