Scrutiny of the Government

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 8th May 2014.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 9:30 am, 8th May 2014

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the House in scrutinising the Government.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons

As a result of the changes that have been introduced in this Parliament, such as the election of Select Committee Chairs, the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee and more generous approaches to permitting urgent questions and allocating time for debating legislation, the ability of the House to scrutinise the Government has been much enhanced.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I asked the question because that is my view also. I was very taken by the letter that you read out, Mr Speaker, from the Clerk of the House, for whom I have the greatest respect. He said that the House is

“a more effective scrutineer of the executive, and more topical, relevant and independent-minded” than he has ever known it in his 42 years of service, so we must be doing something right.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons

I agree with my hon. Friend. I trust that it will not be interpreted as engaging the Clerk in the debate to say that I hope that Members throughout the House agree that what he said is absolutely true. It is important for such scrutiny to take place. I hope in the debate this afternoon to enhance the ability of this House to demonstrate to the public, whom we serve, that we not only debate the matters that are relevant to them, but use the opportunities that we have to hold the Executive to account.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

However much the processes and procedures of the House have been improved, the Government seem to be trying to subvert them by having extremely long recesses. My understanding from the Table Office is that Westminster Hall will not sit again until 17 June. If, as we all expect, the Leader of the House is about to announce that we will rise on 14 or 15 May, it will mean that for more than a month we will have no opportunity to scrutinise Departments in detail. Will he at least agree to bring forward the Westminster Hall debates to 10 June?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady slightly anticipates what would more properly be a business question. At this stage, we tend to have Prorogation and the Queen’s Speech at this time of year rather than November, so they come together with the traditional Easter and Whitsun recesses. That creates a change in the structure of the calendar rather than necessarily an overall reduction in time spent in debate.