HC Deb 06 November 2001 vol 374 c107
45. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

If he will bring forward proposals to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons for reform of the process for tabling parliamentary questions. [10355]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

Parliamentary questions provide an important mechanism for Members of the House to hold the Executive to account. The Procedure Committee is currently undertaking an investigation into the system for tabling parliamentary questions, and into the possibility of tabling questions and motions electronically. I look forward to its conclusions being brought to the House for our consideration.

Mr. Heath

Setting aside the fact that it would be nice if written questions for a named day could be answered on that day, does not the two-week delay between tabling an oral question and having it answered mean that Parliament often appears blithely oblivious of the topics of the day outside the Chamber? Does it not also mean that hon. Members have to apply absurd circumlocutions to make a question relevant to the question on the Order Paper? If civil servants can prepare appropriate notes for Ministers replying to Adjournment debates, other debates or private notice questions in a matter of days, why can they not do the same for oral questions at departmental Question Times?

Mr. Twigg

The hon. Gentleman raised this matter with my predecessor a year ago, and it is certainly not a new matter for the House. The Procedure Committee reported on it more than 10 years ago, and at that time proposed a reduction in the notice period to five days. That proposal was rejected by the Government at the time. Hon. Members on both sides of the House look forward to the outcome of the present deliberations of the Procedure Committee, when we shall have the opportunity to consider the matter again. Clearly, this is a question of striking a balance between ensuring the topicality that the hon. Gentleman seeks and ensuring that hon. Members asking questions are given fully briefed answers.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

While I recognise that government does not come to a standstill when the. House is in recess, is it not time to reconsider whether we should be able, in a sensible way, to put written questions to the Executive during parliamentary recesses?

Mr. Twigg

My hon. Friend has raised this matter on a number of occasions, including through his membership of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. I do not know whether the Procedure Committee is examining the matter—but I see that the Chairman is nodding, so perhaps it is. That will, therefore, be one of the conclusions that we shall be able to consider when the Procedure Committee reports.