Ministerial Statements - Procedure Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

A House protocol

1.  We do not believe that it is practical or desirable to produce a detailed protocol that would cover all possible situations in which a Minister should make a statement. We recommend instead that the House agrees a resolution in which it sets out in broad terms the behaviour expected of Ministers. We propose the following:

That this House expects Ministers to make all important announcements relating to government policy to Parliament before they are made elsewhere on all occasions when Parliament is sitting and expects information which forms all or part of such announcements not to be released to the press before such a statement is made to Parliament. (Paragraph 17)

Enforcing the protocol

2.  We recommend that allegations by Members that the House protocol has been breached be made first to the Speaker for his judgment. If he determined that the complaint was without basis or trivial, it would be open to him to dismiss it. In cases where it was clear that a minor breach had occurred, he could take appropriate steps, such as allowing an Urgent Question on the subject or making a statement on his findings. In more serious or more complex cases, he would refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for further investigation. We would hope that the Committee would choose to take evidence in public as part of its inquiries into such cases. (Paragraph 30)


3.   We believe that a recommendation from a Committee of the House that a Minister should make a formal apology on the Floor of the House is a serious and effective penalty. It would, of course, also be open to the Committee to recommend that such an apology should be made at a time when the House would be well-attended; for example, after Questions on a Wednesday. In particularly serious cases, the moving of a motion of censure on the Floor of the House would be an even more severe sanction. We feel that these options are appropriate and likely to be sufficient by way of both penalty and deterrent. (Paragraph 34)

Changes to Urgent Questions

4.   Urgent Questions clearly have a role to play in encouraging Ministers to provide information to the House. We believe that this role could be enhanced still further. 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. This deadline should fall at 7 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, 4 pm on Wednesdays, 3 pm on Thursdays and 12 noon on sitting Fridays. The Urgent Question—if granted—should be asked at the moment of interruption. In cases where an Urgent Question to be asked at the moment of interruption has been granted but the House rises early, the Question should stand over until the following sitting day. We would expect this measure to be used only in exceptional cases. (Paragraph 39)

Length of time spent on statements

5.   It is our view that the Chair is best placed to determine the appropriate length of time to be spent on a statement. We therefore reject the Government's proposals for time limits on almost all statements and for a category of time-limited statements for "less significant issues". We do, however, reiterate the proposal made by the Modernisation Committee and endorsed by the House that the opening ministerial statement and subsequent Opposition frontbench contribution should, in most cases, not exceed ten and five minutes respectively. (Paragraph 50)

Notice of oral statements

6.   We recognise that notice is routinely given on the order paper of predictable statements, such as reports from international conferences. We accept that some statements relate to unpredictable events, and that little notice can be given in such circumstances. In other cases, however, we believe that the Government could greatly assist Members by giving much greater notice of forthcoming statements than it does at present. We urge the Government to make every effort to give notice as early as possible of any oral statement it intends to make to Parliament. (Paragraph 62)

Written ministerial statements

7.   It is for the Government to decide whether a particular announcement is to be made by means of a written or an oral statement, but, in some cases, an announcement made by means of a written ministerial statement is significant enough to deserve parliamentary scrutiny. In such cases, there should be a mechanism for backbenchers to question a Minister on the statement. We recommend that the half hour between 11 am and 11.30 am on a Wednesday in Westminster Hall should be available for oral questions without notice on a written statement made in the previous week. We would not expect the Minister to read out the text of the statement. Applications for this time should be made to the Speaker in the same way as applications for adjournment debates and, where the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means judge that a case has been made, the Chairman of Ways and Means should appoint oral questions on that statement as the business for the specified time. We recommend that this procedure be introduced on a experimental basis until the end of the Session. We will conduct a review of its effectiveness at that time. (Paragraph 68)

8.   We believe that neither the removal of the requirement to give notice of written ministerial statements nor the making of such statements at 7 am would be in the interests of the House and its backbenchers. We therefore recommend that the earliest time at which written ministerial statements are released remain 9.30 am and that the requirement to give notice of such statements be retained. We accept that there is a difficulty on non-sitting Fridays and we recommend that the Government be able to give notice on a non-sitting Friday, between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, of its intention to make a written statement on the following sitting day. We urge the Government to make every effort to give notice as early as possible of its intention to make a written statement. (Paragraph 73)

9.   It is sometimes difficult for Members to know that a written ministerial statement has been made. We recommend that written ministerial statements be published on the Parliamentary website and that an RSS feed be provided so that Members who so choose can be alerted to their publication. (Paragraph 77)

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Prepared 2 February 2011