Ministerial Statements

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 5th December 2011.

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Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley 5:11 pm, 5th December 2011

I sit on the Procedure Committee and the Backbench Business Committee, so I have looked at this issue for some time. It is a question of the separation of the estates of the constitution. Previously, if an hon. Member’s written question was not answered, their best option was to make a freedom of information request. That was changed in the previous Parliament, and there is now a process for investigating why written questions are not answered by Ministers. We now have a system whereby, in the interests of improving governance and scrutiny and ensuring that what is done for this country is in its best interests, new Government policy on substantial issues is, as a general principle, announced first to the House.

The motion does not try to produce a detailed protocol. In the previous Parliament, a written statement would be made on, for example, the banking crisis, a regulatory news announcement would be made in the morning and an oral statement would be made during the day. That achieved a process of accountability—the Regulatory News Service was used so that all the financial market matters were dealt with and an oral statement was made, enabling Members to hold Ministers to account—and I do not think that anyone would say that there was anything wrong with it.

In deciding whether to support the motion, we must ask whether we should leave things as they stand so that, if Ministers take no notice of the ministerial code and make no effort to ensure that information is given first to Parliament and there is no investigation—a point of order can be raised but nothing further happens —or whether we should we have a process whereby we will not tolerate Ministers doing that. I accept that the Government do not like it because it is inconvenient for them, in the same way as answering questions can be, but in the long term, for the Government parties to be re-elected, we need good government, meaning we—