Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Answer the Question!

One of the advantages of digital Freeview is that one has access to BBC-Parliament, and thus see proceedings in Westminster unmediated by BBC journalists. Further, one can see in full the points of order which are raised by MPs after Prime Minister's Questions are over. Good as Phil Parry and Adrian Masters, and their studio guests, are, this session can be more entertaining and informative than any panel post mortem on PMQs.

Today was a case in point. Most of the questions raised are, in fact, not points of order as such, but a means for ordinary members to get something off their chest and into the record. Since the Speaker has to hear the submission out before ruling on it, the intention of the member is fulfilled. Today, there was much by-play over Lord Ashcroft, together with the unwillingness of cabinet ministers to give embarrassing answers to MPs' letters before the general election.

Anne Widdecombe asked a question which she had raised many times before, and which honourable members before her had no doubt also raised, going back to the days of Harold Macmillan, who had introduced the prime minister's questions procedure. What she wanted to know is how ministers could be made to respond to questions.
Speaker discusses parliamentary reform
Here there is hope. Speaker Bercow has promoted  "a tracking system for Written Questions, in due course to be made available on the Internet. I am aware that Ministers have many, many demands on their time but I want to encourage a culture in which Questions posed by backbench MPs are considered to be a special priority. This can only enhance the status of Members of Parliament." (That description was from a speech to the Hansard Society which is worth reading in full.) Today, in response to Miss Widdecombe, he clearly foreshadowed extension of the system to other questions and its use as an instrument to hold the administration to account.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

Guido Fawkes this morning has the story behind another of the interchanges in the Commons yesterday, the puzzling (to the outsider) one between Speaker Bercow and Michael Fabricant.