Ministerial Answers

Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 13 November 2008.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 10:30, 13 November 2008

If she will take steps to ensure that Ministers' answers to hon. Members include pertinent information otherwise available to the public; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. and learned Friend and I always encourage ministerial colleagues to be as helpful as possible when answering hon. Members' questions. This does of course mean that, where possible, instead of referring to a previous answer or to a document that is available elsewhere, Ministers should provide the fullest possible information.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

Will my hon. Friend have a word with the Prime Minister? Did the Deputy Leader of the House notice that on 17 June and 13 October, on the advice of John Scarlett and Gus O'Donnell, the Prime Minister declined to answer my question as to who is the Clerk of the so-called Intelligence and Security Committee—an appointed Committee? The Prime Minister declined, and it upset me. I lay awake at night and, trying to get to sleep, reached for the "Civil Service Year Book", where I noticed—and I shall say this in a whisper, because it is top secret:

"Clerk to the Intelligence and Security Committee

Emma-Louise Avery".

The serious point is that this is sloppy. These are the same people who preside over things being left on railway trains leaving Waterloo and who try to tell me who I should and should not meet in London. It is arrogant of them to refuse to answer a reasonable question and it has got to stop—right from the top of the pyramid down to assistant regional Ministers.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I commend my hon. Friend, whom I think all Members think of their hon. Friend, for the forthrightness with which he always puts his case, and for his diligence. I hate to think of him lying awake at night worrying about things, but the general principle is absolutely clear: it is important that Ministers always provide the fullest possible information to Members, unless there is a very specific reason why they cannot do so, or when it is disproportionate to do so. I am more than happy to pass my hon. Friend's comments on to the Prime Minister.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

On that subject, can Ministers also try to ensure that the same honesty applies whenever there are ministerial answers? On the debate about Heathrow yesterday—[Hon. Members: "Tuesday."] On Tuesday. It is absolutely clear that when Ministers told colleagues that no date had been decided for the Heathrow debate, the British Airports Authority had been told that the debate would be on Tuesday this week. Can Mr. Speaker's rulings be respected, so that colleagues in the House are told first and before people with a commercial interest outside the House?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Of course there is a basic principle that everything should be told to the House before it is told elsewhere, but there are very special circumstances, such as when issues might affect the markets, whereby I think the whole House understands that, for instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer needs to make announcements in a slightly different way—and then needs to come to the House as soon as possible.

Simon Hughes seems to have forgotten about yesterday, because the Heathrow debate was two days ago, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will have heard his comments, which the hon. Gentleman has now put on the record.