John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
  Mr. Speaker's advice to MPs: "...try and try again."
More and more Members of Parliament are getting frustrated by the unaccountability of the government, and the failure of Ministers to answer questions properly. This exchange (below) took place in the House of Commons yesterday, and clearly shows how little power MPs have to hold Ministers to account: even with the Speaker's support.

Points of Order
4.31 pm
Mr. David Gauke(South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that, nearly two weeks ago, I raised a point of order with you about an unanswered question from the Home Office. That unanswered question related to the number of unanswered questions from the Home Office. It was a named day question, the date in question being 5 June. I received a response that the Home Office would answer as soon as possible —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) that I am trying to listen to a point of order? It is a distraction when she speaks so loudly.

Mr. Gauke: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, the holding answer said that an answer would come as soon as possible. That was on 5 June. I raised a point of order with you exactly a month later about whether an answer would be forthcoming. I would be grateful to know whether there has been any progress on this matter, given that the recess is looming.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the point of order. I was getting a bit worried myself, in case I got a holding reply—but I can inform him that the good news is that since I came into the Chamber, an answer has arrived. As soon as I leave here, I will read the answer and I will share it with him. I hope that that is helpful to him.

Simon Hughes
(North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have been very clear in the past about the duty of Government not to release information publicly before it has appropriately come to the House. I have not given you prior notice of what I am going to say, so I apologise, because you may want to reflect on this. You could reflect on whether you could issue the same sort of warning to agencies of Government. The particular case that I have in mind occurred today. The Crown Prosecution Service’s Director

17 July 2006 : Column 38

of Public Prosecutions was due to make an important announcement at 12 o’clock about the prosecution or otherwise of police officers in relation to the shooting at Stockwell, but it was clear that there had been a leak of his intended announcement beforehand. I wonder whether you could take the time to reflect on that. If you were able to help the House by making sure that that sort of announcement was also protected—so that it could be made by the appropriate officer rather than announced in the press beforehand—that would be much appreciated.

Mr. Speaker: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, but my feeling is that the Crown Prosecution Service is an independent organisation, and operates in a different situation from that of a Minister of the Crown.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) about ministerial non-answers, you will remember the advice that you gave me a few days ago in relation to a question that I had asked the Secretary of State for Defence. I asked whether he was informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the Chancellor’s proposed announcement on the future of Trident before the Chancellor made his Mansion house speech. The answer was:

“I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a range of issues.”—[ Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1107W.]

You advised that I should table another question. In pursuance of your advice, I did so, asking whether in the course of those regular discussions the Chancellor of the Exchequer had informed the Secretary of State for Defence of the content relating to the future of Trident in the Chancellor’s Mansion house speech before that speech was made. The reply was:

“I have nothing further to add to the reply I gave the hon. Member on 5 July”.—[ Official Report, 11 July 2006; Vol. 448,c. 1798W.]

I wanted you to know the seriousness with which Ministers take your strictures on these matters.

Mr. Speaker: I knew that I was giving the hon. Gentleman good advice, but he must try and try again.
 
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