Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

To be published as HC 602-ii

House of commons



Procedure Committee

Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Mark Durkan MP, Jane Ellison MP, Paul Flynn MP, Duncan Hames MP and Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 64 - 98


1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Procedure Committee

on Wednesday 8 December 2010

Members present:

Mr Greg Knight (Chair)

Mrs Jenny Chapman

Mr James Gray

Mr David Nuttall

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Sir Peter Soulsby


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mark Durkan MP, SDLP, Foyle, Jane Ellison MP, Conservative, Battersea, Paul Flynn MP, Labour, Newport West, Duncan Hames MP, Liberal Democrat, Chippenham, and Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP, Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich, gave evidence.

Q64 Chair: Thank you all for coming. We appreciate you very much giving up your valuable time to share with us the benefit of your views in respect of our inquiry into ministerial statements. It is an unusual inquiry in that I think there is a unanimous view as to what the outcome should be, namely that Ministers should make their statements first to the House and not to the press outside. What we are particularly looking at is what mechanism should be in place to encourage that and what sanctions should fall upon a Minister who doesn’t follow the rule that the House should be told first. Do any of you wish to make an opening statement giving us your views and comments or do you wish to go straight to questions?

Nick Raynsford: I’m happy to get straight to questions.

Q65 Chair: Is that the view of you all? There has been talk of setting up a protocol to deal with this. How do you see such a protocol working and what do you think should be in the protocol? Maybe we could just start from Mark and move across.

Mark Durkan: That begs the question as to who establishes the protocol and who owns it. I think that’s part of the problem that Parliament has in this, that the whole issue of ministerial accountability is deemed to be the preserve of the ministerial code, and any time that Members find themselves raising questions or issues around what statements Ministers haven’t made or what has been in statements they have made, the Speaker has found him or herself basically playing a Wailing Wall role listening to this complaint and then saying, "I’m sure your complaint has been heard on the Treasury bench" and then it’s left to the Treasury bench to resolve.

If we believe that Parliament is a chamber of accountability then we, as Parliament, should be drawing up our own House "code of accountability", as a phrase I would use, or protocol in your terms, where we have to indicate. It probably can’t be fully precise and exhaustive but at least start off as a credible, sort of Highway Code as to the dos and don’ts in relation to where statements are made, where priority needs to be given to Parliament, and that maybe sets down guidelines and they will be nuanced over time as to where a written statement is sufficient and appropriate and where an oral statement is absolutely required.

So I think it’s establishing a House code of accountability that then becomes the property of this House, whether it’s then under the guardianship of this Committee or some other construct that we have. But I think that’s what needs to happen. That’s something that needs to be taken from the Executive. This can’t be something that’s left in the Executive black box as to whether or not the requirements for accountability and openness and transparency to the House, on the part of Ministers, have been adequately discharged.

Jane Ellison: I suppose a couple of points, if I can make them as a new Member, I mean I think that whatever you consider, it would certainly be helpful if we addressed the issue of predictability. Some stronger guideline that we all understood about when a statement might be made and when it could be expected is certainly something I hope that you address. I’ve certainly found it quite hard to get to grips with a parliamentary timetable that can be so heavily shifted very quickly out of kilter by statements, some of which occasionally are emergency statements, but many of which could have been predicted quite a long time in advance and planned for. Certainly, it can make life quite difficult.

One of the points I made, when I spoke in the debate on this subject, was about a protocol that helps to drive a culture change because I think that actually the problem isn’t just with Ministers of whatever Government. I think probably some of the problem lies in a sort of general diminution of respect for Parliament, Parliament’s role over a period of time, when, for want of a better word, "kitchen Cabinets" have been seen to be running the country and therefore a sense of, "Oh well, we don’t need to let those guys down the road know about it" has grown up. So I think that any protocol that your Committee comes up with and recommends to the House and to the Executive should be one that would also help them drive a culture change within their ministerial department, so it’s clearly understood what’s expected.

I suppose I’m slightly conscious that whatever protocol you come up with shouldn’t be something just used as a blunt instrument to bash Ministers over the head with. It needs to be something that actually encapsulates trying to make the House do its job better rather than be seen, if you like, just as a tool for whoever is the Opposition of the day.

Paul Flynn: Can I take the point that Jane made about the timetable for these announcements, which all come out by 12 o’clock when we first hear about them? There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be announced at least a week earlier in most cases. I mean they could always change them round if necessary, but it’ll take a lot of the criticism out of this if we had advance notice.

It’s also used the other way because on 16 November there were two very important statements made. They were very newsworthy, and that was the one on the Redfern Inquiry about the unauthorised taking of body parts from former nuclear workers, and it went on for 40 years by the nuclear industry without the consent or the knowledge of their loved ones. This was a statement of enormous importance. And also immediately afterwards the Guantanamo Civil Litigation Settlement, again a matter of some controversy because it was being made, millions of pounds were being given in compensation without any defensible rational policy for doing it. But both those statements were buried by the news that came out that same day of the engagement in the Royal family, and it seems that certainly the Government took advantage of that period to do that.

The problem is there aren’t any sanctions that are used currently in the House. I’m sure there are sanctions under Erskine May. I can’t see why we can’t revive the process, which has hardly been witnessed by anyone who is still in the House now, and that’s calling Members to the Bar of the House to be admonished by the Speaker. I’m told it’s a terrifying experience but it hasn’t been used, and it can be used, I think, without any change. If the Speaker believes that the Minister has decided to leak for their own advantage beforehand the substance of a report, he can do that.

We know the experience in the Scottish Parliament, which I’m sure you’re well acquainted with in 2001, wherein the Speaker then refused to allow a Minister to make a statement because all the detail of the statement was in that morning’s newspapers, and I believe he went straight into allowing the Opposition to address what was in the morning’s newspapers. The great difficulty there, there wasn’t that chance for Members to question the person who was making the statement, so there are difficulties there. It is a possibility. But I believe the Speaker could assert his authority in a different way.

There is another area, which is a very difficult one to anticipate, and that’s the statements that have great gaping holes in them, and there were two recently: one by the Foreign Secretary and one by the Prime Minister after they had both visited Afghanistan. They did statements, one in May, one in June, to the House in which they described in glowing maniacally optimistic terms how well things were going in Afghanistan but neither of them, on the two occasions, mentioned that they couldn’t complete their journeys and their planned itinerary because of the threat of the Taliban. The Taliban might have shot down the helicopter that David Cameron was in. These two huge facts, the most significant thing by far that happened on their itinerary, were somehow omitted from the statements. So we have sins of omission as well as sins of commission.

Q66 Chair: Before I come on to you, Nick: just going back to what you’ve said, if you were to have a system where statements were announced a week in advance, wouldn’t that increase the number of leaks, because the press would want to find out what was behind the heading that had been flagged up?

Paul Flynn: If we take what the position is now where the last two Governments have been obsessed with the need to have a daily drip feed of adulation from the press. They talk about them, I believe, as announceables, and they carefully plan these to make sure that the Government is seen in the best possible light. Well, I believe if we are talking about a policy-I mean today we heard on the Today programme this morning there is going to be a new policy on drugs. I mean, there is no statement in the House. One would have thought there would have been. But the Government can avoid their cross-examination on that. We did have a statement on the social security system, which always takes place every year, the uprating statement takes place, but I believe there is-I mean we are hearing, even from a Government as young as this, the possibility that Secretaries of State are organising their own leaks. That has been suggested and it may well be happening, but I don’t know how we’d avoid that.

But certainly as far as backbench Members are concerned, we’d certainly like to have-I mean the Redfern report is a typical point where I reorganised my week in a certain way, and I had to change everything when I knew this report was coming out, because it was something that I’d had a longstanding interest in. But I believe it would certainly help backbenchers, but the possibility of leaks I don’t think can be avoided.

But if the Speaker could find some way of admonishing the person that he thinks responsible, the head of the department, it might possibly have some effect. At the moment, I don’t think he can do much but have a quiet word in private with the offender.

Jane Ellison: Chairman, just a very small point, just picking up on the specific example of the day Paul just quoted. I have as a former constituent the last remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay, so on that day that statement meant I had one and a half hours to find a substitute to be on a Bill Committee in order that I could be in the Chamber to effectively represent him and his wife and four children who live in my constituency. Thankfully, a colleague did help me out in that instance, but it was a bit of a scramble.

Nick Raynsford: Three observations, if I may: firstly, I don’t think we should complain about Government trying to maximise the positive media for its policy. Any Government is going to do that. What I think we should be doing is ensuring that the procedures that operate here allow the House, once again, to claim primacy in terms of presentation of Government policy and statements, and there to be proper and effective sanctions where that code is not properly followed. I agree very much with Mark that, unless we have a House of Commons code, which is given sufficient attention by Ministers, I think it’s very unlikely that we will see it.

There is a ministerial code, but breach of the ministerial code is solely for the Prime Minister to gauge. If that breach has resulted in positive presentation of Government policy the Prime Minister is not going to be particularly keen to rap that Minister over the knuckles, unless they transgress to a point where he begins to be embarrassed. That is why in my written submission to you, when you announced this inquiry, I suggested that where there is a transgression the Prime Minister should also be required to attend the Chamber as well as the Minister responsible. But for that to happen there has to be a code that the House can enforce and the House can insist that a Minister who has transgressed, and the Prime Minister, should both attend. That is point number one.

Point number two is: I agree very much with Jane that culture is crucial here. Ministers are surrounded by people who don’t necessarily have a great regard for the House. Civil servants see the House as a slight irritant, something that has to be worked with, they understand that. But their main objective is their loyalty to the Minister and to their departmental objectives. Special Advisers treat the House with total contempt. Their main points of contact are usually the media. They usually are absolutely focusing on getting the best possible attention for their Minister’s case.

So the culture that Jane described is absolutely encouraging Ministers to behave in a way that does not necessarily give the priority to the House. If we are to re-establish the House as the primary cockpit of national debate, which it should be, I think we must have a procedure that counters that culture and that tendency. That rather reinforces the earlier point I was making about having a House code or protocol.

The third point is the timetabling of statements. I think we don’t help ourselves by talking about statements as though they were all the same. There are very different types of statements. There are the statements that are essentially reports of international events or conferences that can often be timetabled months in advance because when there is going to be a G20 or a European meeting, finance ministers or whatever, the date of that is fixed a long time in advance and it should be possible to, in advance, pencil in statements where they are expected as a report on those sort of events. Secondly, there are major international disasters or other events of that nature that cannot be forecast, and with those you have to allow the flexibility so that a statement can be made in a hurry; when there is a need for a ministerial response to such an event. Thirdly, there are announcements of Government policy. Well, that should be always first to the House, there should be absolute presumption that that should be made to the House and the timetable should allow Government to have some flexibility, including, in my view, the use of Westminster Hall for some such statements.

I find it frankly galling to listen to a Minister on the Today programme talking about a change in policy that will be the subject of a statement to the House, using the fact that there is going to be a statement to the House to avoid answering questions, and then to discover it was a written statement in which we would have no opportunity to question that Minister. Frankly, that is a nonsense, and there has to be a presumption that Ministers will make statements first to the House, that the timetable of those statements is very much up to them to determine, but that we should programme statements, including the use of Westminster Hall for some additional statements, in order to facilitate that. Clearly, the most important will come into the House and the ones the Government regards as perhaps less important would go into Westminster Hall, but there would still be greater flexibility.

Duncan Hames: You will know from my comments from your earlier request for views that I endorse very much what we’ve just heard and, in particular, the suggestion that there should be greater notice for Members of statements. I thought Jane made very clear an example of the disruption that that can cause. The arguments that I’ve read, which suggests this can’t be done and this is too difficult, are based on hard cases. That’s why it’s entirely right to say that we deny ourselves a much more civilised arrangement for many statements by insisting that it should be the same for all of them. I think that is a bit of a pitfall for any kind of codified set of rules. I have a lot of confidence in the Speaker to be able to determine what is and what isn’t appropriate, and he has proven quite effective in recent times dealing with the problem of the lack of a ministerial statement on a subject through the use of urgent questions.

I think simply, if you like through willingness to improve, on many statements we could provide a lot better notice to Members without necessarily enforcing that in circumstances where it wouldn’t be appropriate. The other comment, I make, and I draw the example of the statement we had recently on electrification, sometimes there are issues around market sensitivity, but there we had a written statement that day that said a certain amount, not an awful lot actually, but it was enough in order to address this concern about speculation. We had a much fuller oral statement to the House that gave Members the opportunity to ask a lot of questions.

I believe that that safeguarded the pre-eminence of the House and perhaps there is greater opportunity for a measured and responsible combination of written and oral statements on the same subject on the same day.

Q67 Chair: Thank you. If we had a House protocol, who do you think would be best placed to decide whether there had been a breach of it and to then enforce it-a committee of Members or the Speaker?

Nick Raynsford: My own view is: the Speaker would have to do it, but the protocols were written in a way that makes it relatively easy for the Speaker to reach a judgment without too much latitude and discretion.

Q68 Chair: Does anyone dissent from that?

Jane Ellison: No, but I would agree with the last qualification very strongly. I think it needs to be reasonably tight if you are leaving it to the Speaker.

Paul Flynn: I think our judgment is affected by the personality of the present Speaker who has already showed himself to be a reforming Speaker, when he has told Governments he doesn’t want to see statements on Opposition days, for that is one of the abuses involved. I think, presuming if we continue to have Speakers of his kind of personality, yes, I think the Speaker should judge.

Mark Durkan: I would agree that, by and large, yes, the Speaker should have referee powers here. There will be a question from time to time whether there should be some other assistance where there are issues of bigger controversy, so some facilities should exist whereby if the Speaker wants to refer the matter to a committee, he or she can. It may be too that, when the Speaker acts as the determinant in relation to issues or complaints that arise, a committee such as this Committee or another should have broad oversight on the House’s behalf, because we would put the Speaker in an invidious position if there were problems with the code, and if the Speaker were then in the position of trying to canvas for changes in the code, because would it be the case that the Speaker was trying to create changes that would get at a Minister, or was trying to create changes that would mean that a Minister could claim the benefit of the doubt in some other situation? So I think the Speaker will be in a difficult enough position making judgments in some potentially controversial cases and certainly shouldn’t be left to be in complete oversight of the procedure in terms of adjustments or developments that need to be made. The code should be in the possession of the House and the House committee, but the judgments and enforcements in relation to the code should hopefully, by and large, be left to the Speaker.

Q69 Chair: Would it be a fair summary then to say that what you are saying is you think the Speaker should be the person to adjudicate and to enforce the code, but he should have the power to refer it to a committee of the House if he felt that was appropriate in certain cases? Is that basically what you said?

M ark Durkan: Issues may arise. There may be new practices or patterns that emerge because systems, Special Advisers, civil servants, Ministers, have great ways of getting new ruses, or getting around things. There are a lot of people who work below the radar within the system we have. One or two are therefore immune from some of the accountability mechanisms that we are trying to establish here.

So it could well be that issues arise whereby the Speaker would at least want to refer those as matters for more general consideration to a committee that he could not fully address.

Jane Ellison: Chairman, could I just add one small thing? I mean I have no idea what the sort of protocol is around people recommending to the Speaker how he proceeds, but it seems to me that the group of the Speaker, plus the Deputy Speakers, you have a kind of balance there within the team anyway, a natural balance, different personalities, different perspectives, even different political backgrounds. If you decide to go down the route of seeing the Speaker as the arbiter it might well be something your Committee would want to consider whether part of that recommendation would be that it’s, if you like, considered by the Speaker and his Deputies together, because I think if you’re looking for something that gives the whole House confidence, the idea that something gets chewed over and discussed may well be part of that.

Paul Flynn: I mean the present Speaker can’t refuse a statement. He has to be informed of the statement, but unlike the Speaker of the Scottish Parliament, I understand, who can refuse it, our Speaker can’t, but I think he should have that power. In the example that we both quoted, the Redfern inquiry, that might well be occasion when the Speaker would likely say, "You’re using this day to bury bad news".

Nick Raynsford: Can I slightly differ on that one? I think it was a very dangerous precedent and I think George Young made the point in his evidence to you that this could be very welcome to a Minister who wanted to make his announcement on the Today programme and didn’t want to appear in the House. So I would be very wary about giving the Speaker power to refuse, which is why I argued the case for greater flexibility to ensure that we had more time for statements and the ability to use Westminster Hall as well as the Chamber.

Q70 Mr Gray: You touched briefly on sanctions. I think, Paul, you suggested summoning the hapless individual to the Bar of the House for a jolly good dressing down and, Nick, you suggested summoning the Prime Minister, and we have just a moment ago talked about the possibility of refusing the right to make a statement, on which I agree with Nick that there are downsides. Leaving those slightly sort of nuclear sanctions on one side, because after all these leaks vary from very minor things through to extremely major deliberate leaks, one has to imagine, and some of them, presumably, the Minister might well say, well, it was nothing whatever to do with them, it’s pure press speculation, and you can’t summon the Minister to the Bar of the House to answer that. Leaving aside the nuclear options, what kind of sanction would there be if the committee or the Speaker were to deem that there had been a breach of the code?

Paul Flynn: The other alternative is to replace the statement, where the Government does have an advantage because the Minister answers all the questions and so a huge amount of time is given to the Minister announcing it, and exchange that for a debate where backbenchers can make speeches and the Leader of the Opposition or Minister could make a speech as well. So instead of having a statement, it could be replaced by an hour-long debate, where the advantage that the Minister has now would disappear and it would give a greater chance for backbenchers to make their comments.

Nick Raynsford: The purpose of a nuclear option is that it should not be used, but it should be a deterrent. I personally feel the prospect of having to sit next to a Minister who has to explain why he broke the code would be a particularly salutary experience and would lead the Prime Minister to enforce the ministerial code. My complaint with the ministerial code is not what’s in it; it isn’t actually enforced at the moment.

Q71 Mr Gray: All right, but, for example, Ken Clarke had some statement recently where it had been leaked to the Sunday papers by somebody in his department over the weekend, I seem to recall. He said, "Well, I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know how it occurred. Nothing to do with me. It’s disgraceful, I’m going to find out who did it and whoever did it will get the sack. If they’re my Special Advisers they’ll be in real trouble" and all that kind of thing. How would you then summon the Prime Minister back from his State visit to Tokyo to sit beside Ken Clarke to answer that?

Nick Raynsford: Crudely, you wouldn’t because it would be the Speaker’s decision as to whether or not there had been a breach, and the Speaker, looking at those facts, would conclude there hadn’t. If the Speaker believed there had been a serious deliberate breach by the Minister concerned he would then, no doubt, arrange a date and time for that Minister to appear before the House together with the Prime Minister, on a date when the Prime Minister was here.

Q72 Mr Gray: You are the only one that was a Minister, I think, Nick, of the five people. In your long and distinguished ministerial career, can you remember any occasion on which a statement that you were going to make, or that your Secretary of State was going to make, was leaked?

Nick Raynsford: Yes.

Q73 Mr Gray: By yourselves or the press people or by someone you didn’t know about?

Nick Raynsford: By people I didn’t know about-I never myself leaked anything in advance. I took the code-I don’t want to sound pious about this-but I did take the code very seriously and believed I had a responsibility to the House. But there were occasions where things were said, and some of those may have been said by media advisers working on behalf of the Government. I talked about Special Advisers and their relationship with the media. Some of it may have been leaked by people who were party to it who were hostile and therefore felt that a leak would help. So this is going to happen. I think one should be realistic about it, which is why, as I said in answer to the earlier question, the Speaker does have a responsibility to decide whether the breach is a serious material and deliberate one or is one of those accidents that happen.

Q74 Mr Gray: The questioning here is about sanctions and, if there were leaks during your time as a Minister, but you’re absolutely plain that in your long and distinguished career you were never ever responsible for it; indeed, you were extremely cross when you found out where that leak occurred, surely no matter how serious the sanction was you couldn’t do anything about it?

Nick Raynsford: No, I agree. Because my concern is where-

Q75 Mr Gray: So sanctions hold no useful function.

Nick Raynsford: My concern is where Ministers deliberately act in a way that does not give priority to the House, and my overriding concern is that the House should be the first place at which Ministers report.

Q76 Mr Gray: I’m sure they’ll agree with that, but that is why there is a broad spectrum of leaks, isn’t there?

Nick Raynsford: Yes.

Q77 Mr Gray: And on most of them people would say, as you just said, and as Ken Clarke said the other day, "Nothing to do with me. I don’t know anything about it". I’m sure you’re right in saying that where it can be demonstrated that a Minister deliberately and intentionally leaked something to the Today programme or the Sunday newspapers before making the statement, then quite plainly he is in breach of the ministerial code. He is risking his job. He is looking at the sack. Certainly, bring the Prime Minister back in, get him to the Bar of the House. I can’t offhand remember any occasion on which that occurred. They are always much more minor than that and nearly always the Minister will say, as you did, "Nothing to do with me, Guv’nor". If that is the case the whole discussion about sanctions becomes meaningless. You make the sanction the chap will lose his seat and be expelled from public life for all time to come, it would have no effect at all because it’s not him.

Nick Raynsford: I gave an example earlier of a Minister speaking on the Today programme, using as an excuse for not answering difficult questions the fact that he had to give priority to the statement he was making to the House later in the day, and there was no statement, no oral statement. There was a written statement. That seems to me to be an abuse of the system.

Q78 Mr Gray: It’s pretty blatant though, and what we’re talking about here is a much more common event than that, which happens most weeks, trying to find some sanction, some protocol, some mechanism, which would prevent that happening, give the House back its-and merely putting in place a nuclear option, what effect would it actually have?

Duncan Hames: Leaks don’t necessarily happen on the morning on which the statement was going to take place. In fact, the timetabling of the statement is something that is-I’m sure Governments of all parties have found-a particularly prized privilege, and so if a leak happens much earlier than that, then surely through the use of urgent questions the opportunity to deny the Government control over the timetable of that parliamentary scrutiny by bringing it forward.

Jane Ellison: If I could just comment just briefly on your point, I mean I sat through the debate when we looked at this thinking exactly that, really, that there was a potential. I’ve tried to look at that in my opening comments. There is a potential to create a system that is just going to incentivise opposition, to kind of basically plant people in PR teams to leak things strategically and get Ministers into constant hot water, which would very quickly bring the whole protocol into disrepute. I think, you’re right to sort of drive at that.

It would, however, have an effect on people, who then are themselves perhaps a little contemptuous of Parliament, at least on people thinking nothing of talking in advance about something. I mean that does happen, and I think it would focus minds in that regard at least, but I agree with you that making somebody ultimately responsible for a massive Government department is a bit of a sort of conspiracy charter-

Q79 Mr Gray: I think that is quite correct. Finally from me then, would you not agree-I think Duncan’s point is an extremely good one-which is that if you were to bring in a procedural sanction like a UQ, if there is any leak of any kind whoever is responsible, whatever the circumstances, whatever it was, you will lose the opportunity of handling the timing and everything yourself and it will suddenly become a UQ or some other procedure that would take it out of your hands and become in the hands of Parliament. That is less ad hominem and less dramatic than a summons to the Bar of the House, but actually might well be more effective. Would you agree with that general thesis?

Nick Raynsford: I would see it as part of the armoury and I think the greater use of UQs in the last year or so has been a really salutary process.

Mark Durkan: I think UQs would be one yellow card device that could be used to signal that something is wrong, but at the same time the play goes on and the people are able to perform their role, but just under caution and not with the same advantage as they previously enjoyed. It’s also important to think about, if it is the Speaker who is making these judgments, what the Speaker is doing. Reference by the Speaker to a committee to look at some of the particulars of the issue would, in itself, be a sanction because Ministers will not want to be taken into that committee to explain on what exactly they did or didn’t know or what lessons can or can’t be learned.

Potentially, of course, officials in the department have to be callable before such a committee as well, so that people can’t be just saying, "Well, it’s not a matter for us" because to take Jane’s point, if it is about changing the culture people within the civil service and people within party support structures need to know-

Q80 Mr Gray: I wasn’t concerned on that, but can I come back to Mark’s point then? If you did that, would you not agree with me that you would be removing responsibility of the Minister? At the moment the Minister has responsibility for absolutely everything. He’s the one responsible in Parliament, and the Minister is the one that will get the rap on the knuckles, or will have to answer questions. The moment that you said a parliamentary committee could summon officials to answer as to why it was, you then make Parliament rather like a leak inquiry, which should be done internally. Surely, it should be the Minister responsible not officials.

Mark Durkan: I think as a resort-

Chair: I think the point is: shouldn’t the buck stop with the Minister, whoever under him did it?

Mark Durkan: Yes, I think, by and large, the buck should stop there, but in many cases you will find Ministers giving very honest statements of account as to the fact that it wasn’t them. They didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t license it or agree it in advance, or whatever. But the Ministers might well have suspicions as to how leaks came about or whatever. I do believe that a committee should be-and maybe it is again a nuclear option-able to at least inquire of Permanent Secretaries or whatever, maybe not individuals, but Permanent Secretaries who are the channel to which the Cabinet Office go when there are issues of leaks inquiries. It’s the Permanent Secretaries who are held responsible for the performance of the departmental side of things. There should be a sense of departmental responsibility as well.

Yes, first and foremost, Ministers should do it, but if Ministers are able to say honestly, hands on heart, that it was nothing to do with them, and this was something that happened through some other way because of budget or departmental turf games being played-certainly, as a Minister in Northern Ireland I had experience of where leaks were happening through the most bizarre ways. People were second and third guessing each other with pre-emptive leaks trying to spoil what news stories were going to come out of other departments or whatever.

Certainly, as Minister for Finance, the complaint that I used to get was that I didn’t brief anything about budgets in advance and I didn’t agree statements until I had finished them on the day, precisely to prevent leaks. But it didn’t stop others because they knew through the civil service information chain, they knew all sorts of things doing it. So a committee that is only able to talk to Ministers will end up quite frustrated. There has to be some other line of inquiry they can do beyond that to at least enforce some of this culture change.

Q81 Mr Gray: I must let you move on, Chairman, but is it not a thought that possible sanctions, and we are talking about sanctions, would be any leak could result in the Permanent Secretary of the department being invited in to answer questions as to whether he believed it was the Minister who leaked it, or Special Adviser, or someone? That is a possible interesting sanction, is there not?

Mark Durkan: Yes.

Q82 Chair: Are you all, in effect, saying, that even in a clear-cut case, where it was the Minister, you would be satisfied with the most severe punishment being available that that Minister has to make an apology to the House with the Prime Minister in the Chamber? That is in effect what you are saying, and you do not see any need for anything beyond that.

Nick Raynsford: I believe that is a pretty-and James described it as a nuclear option-severe sanction and I can’t believe the Prime Minister who had to endure that would give any latitude to other Ministers to repeat the process.

Q83 Mr Nuttall: Moving on from the issue of protocols and sanctions, on a wider front, how valuable, how useful do you think oral statements to the House are in the context of holding the Executive to account? Do you think there are any changes that could be made to the existing procedures to make them even more useful and more valuable to backbenchers? If I start perhaps at this end with Duncan first-

Duncan Hames: I think they are very useful and it’s worth contrasting them with question sessions where Members will be aware that sometimes the same question appears in the names of several Members. This may just be a coincidence or it may reflect a degree of co-ordination by MPs. So I would suggest that maybe there is an effort to secure an amount of time for a degree of agenda on particular subjects of question sessions, whereas a statement ensures that that subject is what is going to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny, not what other Members may have been persuaded to put in questions about. So I think that’s very important.

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.

Nick Raynsford: I just want to say I agree with that. I just would stress the difference between different types of statements I referred to earlier. The most complex and difficult one that I ever did, and I did it for four years, was the local government financial settlement because you had to cover an incredibly complex series of issues, and every single MP had an interest and was likely to ask a question about their own constituency. So the timetabling was difficult, and then you had to immediately, after the statement, go and brief the press from heaven knows how many areas who wanted the angle for their area.

So it can at times be a really difficult process, and I don’t minimise the task of timetabling things in a way that makes all that possible, which is why I argued for the maximum flexibility, including use of Westminster Hall, to make sure that we have the opportunity in the House to make the most of this process, which does hold Ministers to account.

Paul Flynn: I think the Speaker deserves great credit for improving the quality of questions asked by the backbenchers by his exhortation to be pithy and by his body language, and his open irritation when people are going on. I think we are all in that position of using verbal polyfiller to expand our remarks, and I’m trying, with the help of the Speaker, to encourage, trying to set an example myself, that all oral questions should be Twitter length, so about 140 characters. If Members become disciplined to do it that way, the questions will be far better.

Chair: Thank you. David, do you have any follow up?

Q84 Mr Nuttall: Yes. Do you see any particular advantage in having the questions before? Statements are always after question time. Do you see any advantage in changing that to another part of the parliamentary day? Do you think they are at the best time?

Chair: Do you think we need to look at the time that statements are made?

Nick Raynsford: Implicit in my earlier comments, if we are to use Westminster Hall then that would allow an opportunity for perhaps morning questions, morning statements.

Mr Nuttall: Yes, morning statements.

Paul Flynn: It’s the best time of the day, as far as attendance and attention from the press is concerned.

Mr Nuttall: That is a point, yes.

Paul Flynn: There was an issue a short while ago, and I don’t know if Members of the Procedure Committee are aware of this, when an attempt was made to change the announcement of the deaths in Afghanistan in question time and one group were announced on a Monday and one on a Tuesday. There is also a rule in the House, which is again a ruling by the Speaker, that Members aren’t allowed to read out the names of the fallen in Afghanistan. I’ve done it on two occasions and the Speaker has ruled that that can’t be done anymore.

So it’s interesting. I don’t know whether it’s part of procedure as such, but I was stopped when the Deputy Speaker thought I was going to do it again. I wasn’t in fact. I believe there is a reason for saying that-instead of reading a speech a stronger impression can be given on what’s going on there by standing up and reading out simply the names of the 247 who have now fallen in Afghanistan. But it’s not allowed.

Q85 Chair: Mark, I understand you may have to leave us shortly because you have a debate in Westminster Hall. Is there anything you want to say about any aspect of this before you go, which we may be covering later, but you won’t be here?

Mark Durkan: Just to come back to David’s point. First of all, statements are certainly useful. At this stage, in the life of this Parliament, they are particularly useful to Ministers. There has been a lot of ministerial joyriding at the despatch box. They’re behind the machinery of government, able to say, "We’re changing this, we’re doing that". There’s lots of turns. I’m not saying anything about U-turns or anything else. So some of that has been launched, which is useful to Government, but it is nevertheless important that Parliament, where significant changes are being made, has the chance to question those.

I do think there should be, while I agree with what Paul has said and understand what he said about some of the questions, I do think latitude maybe does need to be given where it is a constituency Member with a particular interest, where maybe some information has to be imparted to the House by a backbencher as well as the questions asked. Certainly, on behalf of the smaller parties I would have to say that our equivalent of frontbench spokespersons are only ever given backbench time and are just jumped upon. At times, Scottish parties are trying to point a particular Scottish context or something or somebody from Northern Ireland, and it shouldn’t apply all round to every party, but at some point we should maybe just be given a wee bit more time in relation to statements, so that it is more a matter of accountability in those terms.

Jane Ellison: If I could just add to that point, and just make a couple other-I think that’s an interesting point about the length of time. I’m on the Backbench Business Committee and it has struck me as an early curiosity that the only people who are timed, for example, in the backbench business debate are the backbenchers. I think again there is room to push at that for statements as well, because it might well be the case that, where it does affect like the Redfern one, or whatever, a backbench Member representing a particular area or interest group, or perhaps an all-party group chairman or something, may well have a far more detailed and forensic line of questioning to put to the Minister concerned than a frontbencher who might just go through the motions and effectively make a speech. I have certainly heard that and it was good to hear the Speaker pull up one Opposition spokesman this week and sort of say, "You know, questions, not speeches".

So I think it will be good to perhaps explore whether you could recommend more latitude in that area because sometimes one of the things I’d like to see happen is the expertise of backbenchers, which I have been amazed and inspired by. So many people have so much expertise in areas, but often they’re very restricted in how that can be put across. That is just one point I would put into the mix.

Mark Durkan: The other thing I would suggest is the Opposition frontbench should be allowed a question at the end of the statement as well because often there are issues that have been raised by backbenchers, somehow the tenor of a statement, the significance for bigger players, sometimes changes. So I know the Opposition frontbench don’t get a lot of time on some of the statements and complain about that. They should have a chance to at least have a comeback with a final question at the end as well.

Q86 Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Government has made two suggestions on time limits for oral statements, which you may know about. One is to have a new category of time limited statements that are on less significant issues, to be agreed with the Speaker in advance at the request of the Minister, and that could limit the time both for the statement and for the questions afterwards-that is the less significant bit-then a more general time limit on all statements, whatever their importance, with exceptions such as the Budget. I wonder whether you generally think that time limits would be a good idea or whether it’s better to continue with the current practice of allowing the Speaker discretion.

Jane Ellison: I made the point about the timetable and what it’s like when you reorganise. I mean, broadly speaking, I think that some indication is a good thing, but I would think my own view is that there should always be some latitude there in exceptional circumstances. It is the case that sometimes backbenchers are guilty of repeating something that’s been asked already but just inserting the name of our constituency. I think that it might-I know, shock, horror-be the case that there are still 15 Members who wish to ask a question, but I think that sometimes it’s not necessarily advancing the issue any further. So it cuts two ways. It’s not always Ministers guilty of that as well.

I suppose some ability to plan your day and some recognition that the business coming later may well be really important and people have prepared speeches. We’ve seen a lot of instances recently of debates at the very outset being down to six minutes of backbench contributions and squeezing them to five, and I’ve even seen fours and threes right at the end of a debate. I think we have to look at the parliamentary day in its entirety and realise that there are colleagues later making a debate contribution who may well have put a lot of thought and time into it and they want to say something that takes eight minutes, and it will be a less significant contribution for being squeezed into five.

Q87 Jacob Rees-Mogg: The follow on from that is whether you should allow injury time at the end, again at the Speaker’s discretion, because I know some Opposition Members on Opposition days feel that it’s very unfair if there’s possibly even two statements and they lose a lot of their time, or on a debate like yesterday when a very important European debate that lost over an hour to a perfectly equally important statement. When it’s an issue that is generally thought to be important, but is contentious or is an Opposition day, should the Speaker have discretion to say, "We’ve lost an hour and, therefore, instead of ending at 10.00, so the hour of closure being 10.00, it’s moved to 11.00", or would that so upset Members’ planning of their lives as to be beyond fair? I would be very interested in the views of the balance of that.

Chair: We would be interested in hearing your views because the Leader of the House said, in his view, Members prefer the certainty of voting at a certain hour, 10.00 or 7.00, than the uncertainty of added injury time, and I just wondered what your view is on this issue. Who would like to start?

Paul Flynn: I think that’s certainly the mood of the House at the moment. We’ll never go back to those days when we were here until 3 or 4 in the morning for no apparent reason, and with no apparent gain to the House at all. I think the membership of the House wouldn’t put up with that now.

Having served under four Speakers, it depends very much on the Speaker. I can remember one Speaker who wouldn’t call any backbencher on a statement if they were a frontbench spokesman, even on another subject. You wouldn’t be called at all, and there were other Speakers of different idiosyncrasies. I mean at the present time most people are called on statements, which hasn’t happened in the past. We were lucky if half the people standing were called. And it’s to do with the self-discipline of Members and pressure put on by the Speaker to make them pithy. I think that’s better than simply any rules to restrict the time, because it has an effect on the quality of the speeches being made and the contributions being made. It’s probably beneficial, but extending the time rarely extends the value of speeches made, in my opinion.

Mark Durkan: My instinct of sympathy would be with injury time, being able to make the time good, but that suits me because I am not a Greater London MP and I am staying in a hotel nearby here, so an hour or so extra in the House waiting to vote at that time of night doesn’t make much difference to me. But, under the regime, for Greater London MPs, it would make a huge difference I believe to them, if there was that sort of uncertainty at that stage.

In terms of written ministerial statements I believe that there are at times questions as to why the written route has been chosen, and I’ve certainly had experience of where it seemed to be chosen as a way of avoiding questions or opening issues up. I do believe that there should be some device, whether it’s in Westminster Hall, or whether it’s in the Chamber, or in a special committee stage session on a Tuesday morning as a committee on accountability, where Members can ask questions and topical questions about written statements that were made the previous week. Secretaries of State wouldn’t necessarily have to be there, but just departments would have to have some Minister there available to answer questions that might arise about what was in particular written ministerial statements, including the questions as to why it wasn’t an oral statement.

Similarly, it might be that any oral questions that were going to run over their time and MPs didn’t get in asking questions because the Speaker was managing the timetable, those could be picked up in that as well, so it could be injury time on a different day and a different session. That could also deal with questions about if people had issues about whether or not statements had been misleading or had been complete and comprehensive again. Rather than people asking questions of the Speaker, there could be that occasion, say, for instance on a Tuesday morning where people could ask those questions with greater reflection about statements made the previous week, either written or oral.

Duncan Hames: I think the consequences of injury time can be rather uncivilised and, if I was looking at curtailing aspects of the parliamentary business in order to avoid the need to do that, I wouldn’t start by looking at one of the more participatory aspects of the day in a statement. I’d almost certainly look at the opening speeches in a debate. Sometimes they are used, and perhaps even abused, by backbenchers as a way of getting the debate over and done with in the first two speeches. Given that Members that wish to participate in a debate ought to have been present at the first two speeches, there is an added advantage in a degree of restraint in those two speeches. I’d certainly be happy to see personally the time limiting of backbench speeches in debate start earlier on so that there is more consistency in the time limits applicable. That affected me only last week.

But on the suggestion that we might have some shorter statements, clearly there will be some statements where there isn’t a need to have such a long period of time. And for me the advantage doesn’t come from reducing the amount of time on a statement but the ability for colleagues to be able to predict what happens later in the day. So if there is a statement that the Speaker considers isn’t going to need the full 55 minutes then if the order paper can reflect that through a judgment about how the day may be timetabled then that will help colleagues.

One last thought on this: given that some Members won’t be present for a statement but will want to be participating in the debate that follows, it would be helpful for them to be able to see perhaps from their office or the annunciator that the statement was coming towards an end. One clue for that would be this idea of having an Opposition question at the end of the statement, and for the Opposition spokesperson’s name to appear on the annunciator at that point. It means those wishing to attend the subsequent debate are more likely to be there from the very start of the opening speech.

Nick Raynsford: Two observations: one I’m not sympathetic to time limits on statements because I do think statements are so very different, and I think a degree of discretion for the Speaker to judge when is the right time to end it is probably the right way forward.

I am personally, as a London MP, not uncomfortable about a certain amount of injury time. Injury time, if it was to allow for one extra statement that perhaps might take three-quarters of an hour to an hour is not going to mean a return to 3.00am sessions. This evening we might have assumed we were going home at 7.00, because it’s a Wednesday, but we are not. That is part of our life, and I personally, within the kind of limits I’ve described, would not be uncomfortable with injury time being applied.

Q88 Jacob Rees-Mogg : I think those were the type of limits we were thinking of. I don’t think we were contemplating 3 in the morning.

Jane Ellison: If I could just respond on the same point: I mean again, I’m very close, as a London MP, but although it might sound slightly counter-cultural, if anything, I think Monday and Tuesday would be the better nights for injury time because hardly anyone will have planned to go on to another engagement. I think what is sometimes difficult, obviously, Wednesdays and Thursdays are far more difficult, so it probably doesn’t-it sounds a bit mad, but I think Mondays and Tuesdays when you’re here, and it’s highly unlikely somebody’s going to an engagement starting at 10.30 at night, as it were, would be better days to have injury time.

Q89 Sir Peter Soulsby: Nick and Mark have both drawn attention to written statements being used as mechanisms for avoiding answering questions, whether it’s on the Today programme or on the floor of the House. Mark suggested one mechanism for making them subject to such oral questions. I just wondered whether the others have any thoughts on Mark’s suggestion or indeed any alternative ways of allowing the House to have a go when all the statements have been made and there are questions to be asked.

Nick Raynsford: If I can just add, the UQ is undoubtedly a very powerful weapon in that situation and I think the Speaker should be applauded for making use of it where a Minister has made a written statement and the Speaker believes there should have been an opportunity for Members of the House to question the Minister.

Now, that then leads on to the thought that maybe there might be some mechanism, perhaps involving the Backbench Business Committee, to indicate subjects where they would like an opportunity to question a Minister and they haven’t been given it, and that could allow perhaps questions, oral statements and questions, a few days after a written statement has been laid. Again, going back-I don’t want to sound like a gramophone record-but going back to the use of Westminster Hall if that was available it would be an additional facility that would help.

Paul Flynn: I think our judgments depend very much on what our interests are. I found the suggestion today that the Government were going to change the entitlements of membership of the Drug Advisory Committee, which amounts to scientists out, bigots in, an outrageously anti-intellectual one, and one I would have thought merited a statement in the House and raising a point of order on it. But I think that depends on our point of view on what we’d regard as being important. But it is very irritating, as other witnesses have said, to hear this on the Today programme and hear a Minister having the glorious opportunity to make these points, but not being properly challenged by the expertise that’s in this House that could have challenged him, when Richard Nobdob is available on the Today programme.

Jane Ellison: Very quickly, I’m sure John Hemming has probably made this point and will make this point, but two things we’ve encountered on the Backbench Business Committee, firstly there is a slight tendency-I mean I was quite attracted to the Westminster Hall idea-but there is definitely a tendency we’ve encountered already for people to see it as a second string option and some people feeling downgraded by being sort of invited to take time at Westminster Hall. Not universally the case, but particularly, it’s been the case with those debates that were traditionally part of the annual parliamentary timetable in the Chamber, to being now asked to sort of come and bid for time. Some people seem to have felt it was somehow downgrading their issue. I wonder if you might want to bear that in mind when you’re thinking about whether some statements might be made there, that we’ve come across that. That was the main point I wanted to mention.

Q90 Sir Peter Soulsby: Duncan drew attention to one recent exception to this, but in general things are either a written statement or an oral statement. I wonder whether you think there are any advantages at all in having written statements that are specifically intended to be subject to oral questioning so that they don’t have to be read in the House. They’re issued in advance. Have them have an opportunity to consider them, and then they are timetabled for debate with the Government’s intention that that should be the way it’s handled.

Nick Raynsford: The danger with this is that it’s a wonderful opportunity for the media to grab the subject and to have the debate about it before the House has an opportunity to question the Minister. I see the risk of that. I referred earlier to the Local Government Finance Settlement, which is hugely complex, the budget equally. If you were to say there would be advantages in people having a chance to see this in the written form for an hour or so or a few hours before debates so they can think about questions, I’m afraid we’d just simply be, even more than the current framework allows, giving the media the opportunity to seize control of the debate, because they will be debating it long before we got around to it.

Q91 Chair: But if, let’s say, the Minister’s statement was released to Members and to the press at noon, and then the Minister comes to the House, instead of then reading it it’s deemed as read, rather like a question on the order paper, we’d have more time for questioning. And wouldn’t that questioning be more thorough because Members would have had time to reflect on what the Minister has said, rather than as now where what is said may come as a surprise and Members have very little thinking time?

Nick Raynsford: I think it would encourage Special Advisers and many Ministers to think about how it would play on the 1.00 news rather than on how it would play in the House at 2.30.

Q92 Chair: Does anyone dissent from that?

Mark Durkan: Chair, I think there is benefit in considering what Nick had said originally, that statements are quite different in their character and nature. Some statements are the subject of written statements because the House has to be told, but maybe they are apparently technical in nature or they are a follow through on undertakings that were given in a previous oral statement. It’s probably appropriate that they are made as written statements. But there would be no harm maybe in providing for some such short statements to be subject to a very short question time on the basis of the assumption it’s a short written statement and people can read it and can ask questions. Maybe the questions should be very much just about by way of assurance not necessarily challenge, just by way of assurance that this matter has been considered or that it doesn’t mean something else.

But in relation to Nick’s other point about the urgent question, the urgent question might be appropriate if a Minister is making a very big announcement in the context of a written statement. Often the written statements are making big announcements that affect maybe a particular region or a particular policy community, but maybe aren’t deemed to be of huge political or media importance. I think some facility to allow some comeback question on those statements, rather than having to maybe wait for up to a month for the departmental question time to come around, would be available, whether it’s in the Westminster Hall style or whether it’s in the Chamber, but in the committee style, say, on a Tuesday morning. Some questions in many ways would maybe be parallel-the sort of way in which some of the questions in the Scottish Parliament are done, the Ministers have to be available almost on a free range basis to answer some of the questions. I think some sort of session of accountability, brief and time limited, would be very helpful in making sure the people have adequate comeback in relation to written statements.

Duncan Hames: I think the example I gave was one where the Government cited market sensitivity as a particular reason, so perhaps it was exceptional.

It’s certainly my feeling that written statements are very unsatisfactory for backbench MPs, and at certain times in the parliamentary calendar there can be an incredible flurry of them, and there is very little to even announce that they’ve taken place. I wonder whether it might be helpful perhaps to require the Leader of the House or his Deputy on certain occasions to simply announce to Members the written statements that are being made, if not that day then that week, so that there are some very clear audible signals that the statement has been made. Otherwise, often Members are scurrying around off to the library at a later date when they’ve heard that something has come out. I think that that would be helpful.

But I’d certainly be interested in suggestions that colleagues had for ways to provide some scrutiny, perhaps not on the same day, perhaps at a later day if there was a sufficient degree of interest in what had been a written statement.

Q93 Chair: You’re right about flurries. They tend to occur on the last day before the Lords-

Jane Ellison: I was just going to respond, Chairman, to your earlier point about the question of a statement being released a couple of hours before, the media and the House. One of the least satisfactory statements, I think we probably all agree, that has happened certainly in the last few months, was the Building Schools for the Future one, which was just a bit of a mess all round. Certainly, it informed the debate that subsequently happened on ministerial statements.

In that instance, and there are others that I know of from talking to colleagues, as soon as something is press released to the media people assume they might not be in the House. They might be in meetings. The first time they might know about something important in their constituency is from their local paper calling them. I think, whichever way you slice it, that is a really unsatisfactory state of affairs for Members.

Chair: Yes, I think we agree with you on that.

Q94 Mrs Chapman: On the issue of debates in Westminster Hall, I think Nick you’ve expressed quite strong approval for this, but do the rest of you have any view on the holding of statements in Westminster Hall as well as the Chamber?

Jane Ellison: I think it’s a good idea but I just put a caveat in that I mentioned of the experience we’ve had so far of people sometimes seeming to feel that they’ve been downgraded a bit by being on them. Not everybody feels that, but occasionally. I think it would be a shame if it turned into a sort of political attack or "that statement’s not considered important enough", when actually the House is being offered a further opportunity.

Paul Flynn: Fine idea, I think. I think it should be done, as long as there’s sufficient notice and we’re aware of what’s coming in, as long as it’s properly signposted, why not?

Duncan Hames: I wouldn’t want it to lead to statements that otherwise would have been made in the Chamber itself being less likely to be so. If it means that there’s more scrutiny of statements that otherwise wouldn’t have been oral statements, then it would be welcome.

Q95 Mrs Chapman: I suppose the issue then is who would decide which statements were made where and what the criteria might be. Do you have any views on that?

Jane Ellison: If I can respond first, I think that’s where it gets quite tricky actually, because you would naturally be drawn to the idea that a statement that affected one particular region, for example, or a locality might lend itself quite well to Westminster Hall because everybody, a sort of identifiable group, could then-but again what we have encountered when people have been bidding in the Backbench Business Committee is a slight sensitivity, sometimes feeling, "My region’s been downgraded" or, "My subject’s been downgraded". So I would just caution that sometimes there is that sensitivity. I suspect with enough use, you’d get over that and I think, as I said, if it was presented that this is increasing the amount of time that Members have to question Ministers. But I think initially you would have that little bit of a hurdle to get over.

Paul Flynn: All the subjects I feel passionately about should be in the Chamber and all the others should be in Westminster Hall.

Jane Ellison: You should decide.

Paul Flynn: Yes, I’ll decide.

Nick Raynsford: I think there’s a real difficulty here because I think, if you adopt Duncan’s principle, which I wholly support that this shouldn’t reduce the number of statements made in the Chamber-it should allow more opportunities- if you do that then almost inevitably you are going to reinforce the perception that this is the second-class place for statements. So I think you have to be rather careful. One way that it could be handled would be by an approach that said on days where there are anticipated statements following international events or things that are known to be coming in advance, then the presumption should be that any other statements that day would be made in Westminster Hall rather than the Chamber, which would protect the House’s business against being squeezed and would avoid the Westminster Hall ones being only those statements that were regarded as kind of second degree.

So it slightly breaches the principle because some of those will be terribly important and would previously have happened in the Chamber. But it would not be the case of there being a day in which there were no statements in the Chamber, and there were only statements in Westminster Hall, which I think would be a more serious problem.

Q96 Mr Gray: We have already touched upon written statements, but just a couple of further bits on it. Are you satisfied with the practical way in which they are dealt with at the moment, in other words on paper, on the letter board and in the press lobby, and then on Hansard the following day, or would you like to see a change in some way or another? For example, it has been talked about having an answer by email. What consequence would that have or are there other things you would like? Would you like to see written statements delivered in some other manner than they are at the moment-pretty blank actually, to tell you the truth?

Chair: Who wants to start on that?

Nick Raynsford: I’m an old traditionalist and I am the last person to talk about Twitter.

Q97 Chair: Can I tell you? We came across-it was a written question I’d tabled-a flaw in the present system. When an answer is given, apparently someone has the job of going around the building putting it on the board for the Member, going to the Official Report and then going to the press gallery. This person chose to give it to the press gallery first. As a result, I had a phone call from a journalist half an hour before I had received the answer to my own question, where that journalist has received the answer, which I did not regard as a very satisfactory scenario. If the answers were issued by email, of course, in theory at least, everyone should get them at the same time.

Paul Flynn: Absolutely, it would be a great improvement. I mean there’s so much in the House that is still antiquated in the old cardboard and sealing wax days, and the nearer we get to using the tools that we use every day-I’m sure, like many Members, the majority of my correspondence and communication these days come via email. It would be far better to get the answers back and much easier to use them as well. If we want to transcribe them somewhere else, then it’s much easier to do it by email. It saves a lot of trouble.

Chair: Does any Member of the Committee have any further questions?

Q98 Mr Gray: The Government has suggested that it might possibly make written statements at 7 am, in other words bringing it forward quite a long way, with no notice. What do you think of that?

Nick Raynsford: I thought you dealt with that very well in the session when Sir George Young was proposing it. It’s clearly completely in the interest of the Government and it would infuriate Members who found themselves listening to the Today programme and heard something that they had had no opportunity to question.

Chair: Can I, on behalf of the Committee, thank you all for giving up your valuable time to be with us and sharing your ideas with us? You have ensured that, whatever conclusions we reach, they will be better informed than they would have been without this session, and we do greatly appreciate it.