Ministerial Statements - Procedure Committee Contents

2  Principles

The value of statements

8. Backbench Members were positive about the opportunity offered by oral statements for backbenchers to hold the Government to account. In written evidence, Nicky Morgan MP said that "[statements] offer a real way to question ministers and to raise issues which are of concern to constituents."[3] Duncan Hames MP, giving oral evidence, also felt that statements were "very useful", and added:

I think it's pretty important for the prestige of Parliament that on these major matters of the day there is an opportunity for Parliament to be the focus of attention in debating the merits or otherwise of what has happened.[4]

9. Statements, especially oral statements, are valued by backbenchers and we would deprecate any changes that made it more difficult for Ministers to make them. Our main concern in this report is therefore to encourage and facilitate the making of statements by Ministers to the House and to discourage the leaking of important announcements to the media. We are also keen to ensure that Members, particularly backbenchers, have adequate opportunities to question Ministers on statements that are made.

Parliament first

10. The Government must make important announcements to Parliament before they are made elsewhere. Mr Philip Hollobone MP, moving the motion in the debate on 20 July 2010, said:

The Chamber of the House of Commons should be the centre of political public life in our country. It should not be an inconvenience for Ministers to come here and tell the country about important policy: it should be an honour and privilege to keep the information to themselves until they have told Members of this House.[5]

11. We recognise that the Government has a duty to inform the public as well as Members of Parliament about its policies, and that it often chooses to do this by releasing information to the press. We nevertheless maintain that Members and their constituents are best served when announcements are made to elected representatives before they are made to the media. Parliament should be the centre of national debate and the place in which the most important announcements of government policy are made.

Releasing information outside Parliament

12. There are a number of different ways in which the principle that important announcements should be made to Parliament first could be breached. Ministers have been known to make an important announcement outside Parliament and not seek to make a statement, either written or oral. Ministers sometimes release information overtly (for example, during a broadcast interview) before making a statement to the House. There have also been accusations that Ministers have covertly leaked information directly or by giving instructions to officials—either before a statement is made or without making a statement at all. Finally, there have been instances where it appears that information was leaked from the Department without the Minister's knowledge.

13. It is our view that all of the actions described above are grave discourtesies to Parliament. We are sympathetic to Ministers where information is leaked without their knowledge. We maintain, however, that Ministers are ultimately responsible for the conduct of their Departments and that they should therefore expect to be questioned on any inappropriate release of information, whether or not it occurs at their instruction.

3   Ev 30 Back

4   Q83 Back

5   HC Deb, 20 July 2010, c244 Back

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