Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-345)|
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
340. What are the resource implications of tabling
during the recess?
(Ms Irwin) Are we talking about all recesses?
341. Any recess. I think the pressure would
be for the summer recess.
(Ms Irwin) I think that in the very short recesses
I question whether it would be very cost effective, because not
very many questions come in, and we are already set up to deal
with the questions that come in during the short recesses. For
example, in the fortnight recess coming up now the Office will
be dealing with questions on the Wednesday of the second week
of the recess and the Friday of the second week of the recess,
and they will be printed on respectively the Thursday and the
Monday for the department to see them. This is written questions,
of course. For the longer recess it is more difficult, and I accept
that Members find that particularly in the summer recess holding
oral questions up to be dealt with at the very end is not suiting
the House. I would not think it would be sensible to try to keep
the Office open all the time. I should have thought that if questions
were accepted during a recess, it would make sense to follow something
like the pattern you have in the short recess and probably open
the Office on, say, a Thursday and a Friday, so on a Thursday
there would be a Table Office Clerk in who would deal with the
questions that had come in by post and which would be brought
in or sent in electronically if we had got that far, and the next
day they would be printed and we would check them and do any necessary
communication with departments. You would want to talk to the
Editor of Hansard, I presume, about the publication of
answers and how frequently he thought it was cost effective to
print Hansard. It may be that something like once a week
would also make sense there.
342. Is it feasible to expect that if a Member
tabled an oral question and he subsequently wishes to withdraw
it, he should withdraw it within a week of having tabled it?
(Ms Irwin) This was in the Leader of the House's paper
to you. I do not think it makes sense, frankly. We all know of
occasions when Members have been delayed on trains or in other
meetings and at the last minute have discovered that they cannot
get to Question Time. I think it would appear rather a discourtesy
to the House if they did not have the opportunity to tell the
House in advance and withdraw the question. At the moment questions
can be withdrawn any time up to the time they are due for answer.
343. The memorandum appeared to indicate that
Members could equally change their questions within a day of having
tabled them. Let us suppose they were changed; would that be administratively
feasible or acceptable, to alter the wording? I know they cannot,
but let us suppose they were to be allowed to do that.
(Mr Phillips) Oral or written?
344. Oral, yes.
(Ms Irwin) I think that would perhaps be slightly
unfair on departments, for them to be able to change the text
once they have been tabled. The only changes that are madeand
I think it is what we recognise was behind the observation in
the Leader of the House's memorandum about thisis that
the Office corrects questions that have been incorrectly tabled,
either a handwriting problem or a mistake, sometimes, very occasionally,
questions attributed to the wrong Member. Clearly that is a correction
we have to make, and a certain amount of editing is done just
to make the questions grammatical, or if Members have put them
in in a hurry the next morning sometimes they need a bit of tidying
up, but we endeavour to make those corrections the day after they
are tabled, and if they are made on subsequent days we telephone
departments. I think it may be that there is some irritation in
some departments behind that comment in the Leader's memorandum,
but we do not see it as a significant problem.
345. Thank you very much. I have a very quick
question, because I know colleagues have very important engagements
to go to. Is there any other matter that you would wish to comment
on in the memorandum and proposals that we have received and the
evidence given by the Leader of the House, or any other matter
that we have not previously covered in this meeting?
(Ms Irwin) I do not think so. I think there is perhaps
only one caveat I might add about changes generally. I mentioned
earlier how reliant we are on POLIS. POLIS is, if you like, the
House's memory. It is very important that all questions and indeed
motions and other things are retrievable by POLIS, indexable and
indexed by POLIS, so that we, Members and everyone else can access
them. If you are making significant changes, even in the way things
are printed, they might have implications for the software for
POLIS. I would counsel perhaps a modest pause after your recommendations
are made before they are introduced, so that changes can be brought
Chairman: Can I say, on behalf of all colleagues,
that this has been a very stimulating and very useful evidence-taking
session. You have certainly added to the amount of information
that we have in this inquiry, and it will be very helpful in drawing
up our report. Helen Irwin, Roger Phillips and Janet Hunter, can
I thank you very much indeed for coming before us and giving us
such useful evidence. Thank you.