Ministerial Statements - Procedure Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. When a Minister wishes to make a significant announcement relating to government policy, important events at a regional, national or international level, or changes to the arrangement of public business in the House of Commons, he or she may make an oral statement to the House. Ministers must give notice to the Speaker of their intention to make an oral statement, but require neither his permission nor the leave of the House to do so. Once an oral statement has been made, it is usual for Members to question the Minister on the content of the statement. Less significant announcements may be made to the House by means of a written ministerial statement. There is an understanding, enshrined in the Ministerial Code, that Ministers should make important announcements to Parliament before they are made elsewhere. [1]

2. When an oral statement is made in the House of Commons, it is usually repeated in the House of Lords. In cases where a Secretary of State is a Member of the House of Lords, statements are made in the Lords first and repeated in the Commons. Written statements are normally made to both Houses.

3. During Session 2009-10, 31 oral ministerial statements were made; the total time taken was 24 hours 52 minutes, giving an average time of 48 minutes. The longest statement, on the Pre-Budget Report, lasted 1 hour and 19 minutes; the shortest, on Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee, lasted 21 minutes. In Session 2010-11, between the start of the Session and 21 December 2010, 65 statements were made; the total time taken was 57 hours and 14 minutes, giving an average time of 53 minutes. The longest statement, on the Comprehensive Spending Review, lasted 2 hours and 31 minutes; the shortest, on the Redfern Inquiry, lasted 26 minutes. Most statements last between half an hour and an hour. During 2010-11, subjects on which statements were made included the G20 summit, banking reform, rail investment, financial assistance to Ireland and severe winter weather.

4. On 20 July 2010, the first debate scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee addressed the problem of information that was to be the subject of a ministerial statement appearing in the public domain before the statement had been made to Parliament. The House of Commons agreed a motion which invited this Committee "to consider how the rules of the House could be better used or, if necessary, changed to ensure compliance with this principle [that Ministers ought to make statements to the House before they are made elsewhere] and to develop a protocol for the release of information" by Ministers.[2]

5. In the course of this inquiry we have sought not only to address the question of a protocol and sanctions for Ministers who make important announcements outside the House, but also to examine ways in which the rules of the House might be changed to enable backbenchers to scrutinise more thoroughly announcements made by the Executive. We are conscious that changes to the rules relating to the making of statements in the House of Commons have the potential to have an impact on the House of Lords.

6. Some of the issues that have arisen in the course of our inquiry relate to the timing of statements. We have already begun work on an inquiry into the sittings of the House. We consider that it is more appropriate to consider some of the questions relating to timing in the context of this wider inquiry rather than in isolation from the rest of the parliamentary calendar.

7. To assist us in our inquiry, we sought evidence in writing from all Members of Parliament. We also issued a public call for written evidence from others with an interest in parliamentary procedure. We took oral evidence from the Leader of the House, the Shadow Leader of the House and a panel of backbench MPs. We are very grateful to all those who provided evidence to our inquiry.

1   Cabinet Office, Ministerial Code, May 2010, para 9.1 Back

2   Votes and Proceedings, 20 July 2010 Back

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