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Government Accountability

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 5th March 2015.

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Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North 9:30 am, 5th March 2015

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of parliamentary mechanisms in holding the Government to account since 2010.

Photo of William Hague William Hague First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons

Changes introduced during this Parliament have increased the House’s ability to hold the Government to account. The introduction of the Backbench Business Committee, the election of Select Committee Chairs and allowing adequate time for debating legislation have all contributed to an increase in scrutiny of the Government.

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

As these are the last questions to the Leader of the House before my right hon. Friend leaves the House, may I just thank him personally, and on behalf of his many admirers in my constituency, for his 26 years of service to this House and to the country?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the value of the Backbench Business Committee, to which he referred, can be demonstrated by reference to the debate it gave me time for on the holding of a referendum on our membership of the European Union? Even though the motion was defeated at the time, it subsequently led to Government policy being changed, at least in the Conservative part of the coalition.

Photo of William Hague William Hague First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons

I, in return, pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his constituents; I have never forgotten the black pudding I ate in Bury market during the last general election campaign and I look forward to still more in the future.

The Backbench Business Committee debates have often had an influence. I hope the debate he refers to will have been the precursor of a referendum on the European Union before the end of 2017, held by a Conservative Government. But other debates on issues, such as VAT on air ambulances, Hillsborough and contaminated blood, have also contributed to changes in Government policy.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Does the Leader of the House agree that one of the essential ingredients in effectively holding the Government to account is Back Benchers who are prepared to be critical of the Government and to vote against them from time to time?

Photo of William Hague William Hague First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons

Of course, up to point. My hon. Friend’s question allows me to pay tribute to him, as he is obviously referring to himself. I do pay tribute to him and would only point out that there are many, many occasions on which Government policies merit support as well.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

For once in my lifetime, I agree with an intervention of Philip Davies. Would not holding the Government to account be more effective if Government Members resisted the urgings of the Whips to put questions to the Prime Minister, particularly at PMQs, or to Ministers on other occasions? That does not show independence of mind and it certainly does not show the sort of accountability that is required. In some respects, it makes a mockery of Prime Minister’s questions, which is the unique way of holding the Government—and the Head of Government—to account. It should not be undermined in the way I have described.

Photo of William Hague William Hague First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is speaking after two of my hon. Friends who are very skilled at resisting any orchestration by the Whips or anybody else. I do not think he can accuse them of that. I must say that I have noticed on occasions a certain degree of co-ordination—not necessarily very successful—of Prime Minister’s questions on the Opposition Benches.