Parliament should be at the centre of national debate. Too often details of important government statements appear in the press before they are made to Parliament. Such leaks adversely affect the ability of Members of Parliament to scrutinise the Government on behalf of their constituents.
At present, it is the Ministerial Code that sets out the requirement that important announcements be made to Parliament first. However, the Ministerial Code is enforced by the Prime Minister and not by Parliament. We do not believe that it is acceptable for the Government to regulate itself in this way. The House must be responsible for holding Ministers to account when they fail to honour their obligations to Parliament. We therefore propose that the House should have its own protocol which states that the most important government announcements must be made to Parliament before they are made elsewhere.
Such a protocol must be enforced if it is to be effective. We recommend that complaints by Members that the protocol has been breached should be made to the Speaker. Where a case is not clear-cut, or when the alleged leak is particularly serious, the Speaker should be able to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for an in-depth investigation.
We applaud the Speaker for allowing more Urgent Questions than his predecessors. Urgent Questions are an effective and useful tool for Members who feel that the Government has failed to make a statement to Parliament on an important matter. We recommend that, in certain limited circumstances, Members should have a second opportunity during the sitting day to apply to ask an Urgent Question, but only where information becomes known during the day that was not available before the initial deadline.
It is for the Government to decide whether a statement should be written or oral. In some cases, an announcement made by means of a written ministerial statement is significant enough to deserve parliamentary scrutiny. We recommend that Members should be able to apply for the opportunity to ask oral questions without notice on a written ministerial statement made in the preceding week. This questioning should take place in Westminster Hall between 11am and 11.30am on a Wednesday.