HC Deb 24 June 1996 vol 280 c8
8. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the efficacy of parliamentary procedures relating to the answering of questions for which he has responsibility. [32611]

Mr. Willetts

My right hon. Friend has made no such assessment. My colleagues and I always try to bear in mind the injunction in "Erskine May" that answers should be confined to the points contained in the question, with such explanation only as renders the answer intelligible. Although "Erskine May" adds temptingly a certain latitude is permitted to Ministers of the Crown", I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, would rein us in if we strayed too far.

Mrs. Clwyd

Perhaps the Minister should move off "Erskine May" and on to the conclusions of Sir Richard Scott. Subsequent to his inquiry, he said that Parliament should not be fobbed off by blocking and inadequate answers from Ministers. Does he agree with another suggestion put forward by Sir Richard Scott—that there should be a parliamentary watchdog to ensure that Parliament is told the truth?

Mr. Willetts

The crucial responsibility is that of a Minister to the House. I believe that here in the Chamber of the House, both Opposition Members and Government Members can hold Ministers to account for the answers that they give.

Dr. Spink

May I press my hon. Friend to say how long it would take his Department to deal with questions on our economic performance including, for instance, a question about the impact of the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years?

Mr. Willetts

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity of that supplementary. Of course, if I were invited to regale the House with the story of the British economy since 1979, I would be able to explain that we have the lowest mortgage rates for a generation and that, in the most recent economic cycle, our output per head grew more rapidly than that of any other major economy apart from Japan.

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