Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Rt Hon Michael Jack MP (M19)


  One way in which the role of the backbenchers in the Commons could be strengthened is by amending the procedures whereby the government makes statements to the House, particularly on matters such as key consultation documents or newly published White Papers. At present a Minister comes before the Commons to present a 10 minute statement and the opposition parties then have a similar length of time to pose their questions before backbenchers are given up to an hour at the Speaker's discretion to probe Ministers about the contents of their new publications.

  The drawback of this approach is that Members do not have any of the documentation associated with the statement or announcement in front of them and are therefore constrained as to the thoroughness with which they can probe Ministers about important policy developments. It is often the case that the principal issues to be discussed in the statement have already had an element of pre-digestion by virtue of the now almost obligatory interview on the Today programme on the morning of the day in question.

  I would like to see the situation changed so that on a day when the government was to make an announcement as detailed above the necessary documents would be available in the Vote Office from 9 am and when the Minister came to present a statement to the Commons there would follow a new form of probing debate and question time for approximately one and a half hours. During that period a Member, having previously indicated to the Speaker their wish to participate in the session, would be given up to three minutes to make a short observational statement about the White Paper or consultation or ask a series of questions. At the end of an hour and a half's probing the Minister would be required to respond to the points put forward. Such an approach would give a far greater depth to the probing of important new announcements and ensure that those Members with real interests and expertise in a particular area had the best chance of being called by the Speaker to contribute to such exchanges.

January 2007

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