Ministerial Statements - Procedure Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Caroline Lucas MP, Leader, Green Party (P 51, 2010-11)

As a new Member, I have been very disappointed by the frequency by which I have found out that there is to be a ministerial statement from the press, before this information is made available to MPs. Where notice of or information about the content of a statement is leaked, the Speaker should have, in my view, the power to require the Minister giving the statement to explain to the House who leaked the information and on what authority.

Should this suggestion be of interest to the Committee, I hope consideration might be given to such an explanation having a minimum of five minutes so that the House cannot be given a single sentence, for example, about the matter 'being investigated'.

It would also be very interesting to hear the Committee's view on the implications of the Chamber giving the Speaker the power to increase the amount of time that backbenchers are given to debate a statement where it has been leaked to the press.

To assess the number of times information on a statement has been leaked and the willingness of Departments to address this, I have recently put the following Parliamentary Question to each Government department:

To ask the Secretary of State for [Department] on how many occasions his/her Department has provided embargoed media briefings prior to an oral statement to the House since 26 May 2010; in respect of how many such briefings his/her Department was informed that the embargo had been breached; what steps were taken as a result of each such breach; and on how many occasions his Department has provided media briefings without an embargo prior to an oral statement to the House since 26 May 2010.

No doubt the Procedure Committee will have obtained similar information in the course of its Inquiry. However, I will collate the answers and forward these to the Committee in the new year.

Finally, I recently circulated a document to all MPs and the Speaker, entitled The Case for Parliamentary Reform which suggested that the Chamber should give the Speaker the power to summon a Secretary of State or the Prime Minister to give an oral statement to the House on matters of urgent public interest.

At present, if the Government does not propose a statement itself on a matter of immediate public interest, and if the official opposition or other backbenchers do not submit an Urgent Question to the Speaker for a debate on that issue, there is no means by which the Speaker can ensure there is a debate. Giving this discretion to the Speaker would provide a mechanism which would help hold the Government to account in the public interest.

Communicating policy announcements and legislative proposals to the media before Parliament is a challenge to the role of the Chamber. Therefore, the Committee's Inquiry into this issue is very welcome and has the potential to help reinvigorate Parliamentary democracy. I look forward to the Committee's findings.

December 2010

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