CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

BUSINESS QUESTION – WRITTEN STATEMENTS – 5 February 2009

Dr Julian Lewis:  May we have a statement or a debate – or even, if we cannot have those, an expression of opinion from the Leader of the House – on the improper use of written statements as a substitute for ministerial statements made on the Floor of the House? I have in mind the written statement made on the postponement of the building programme for the two aircraft carriers. I know that the right hon. and learned Lady did her best to promise us that we could raise the issue in the armed forces debate held a week ago, but in the end, Mr Speaker quite understandably decided that we could not. Will she at least try to send a signal to Ministers that, in future, when there is an important matter to be announced to the House, we should be able to question them, rather than the announcement being sneaked out as a written statement?

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I do not think that there is any intention to sneak out information by way of written statements. If information is put in a written statement, it is laid before the House, so it is not sneaked out at all; it is put in the public domain. Ministers and I, as Leader of the House, have to share the decision on whether time is needed for the Second Reading of an important Bill, the remaining stages of a controversial Bill, or Opposition day debates. There has been an unprecedented number of statements, not least because of statements from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Treasury on the economic situation, as well as a number of statements from the Home Office. We have to be careful to ensure that the main business of the House is not too squeezed by statements.

It is a question of striking a balance. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes such matters seriously, so I will be prompted by his question to review the balance between written and oral statements, and the balance between oral statements and the rest of the business of the House, to make sure that we get both right. I absolutely assure him that we are proud of our procurement from the important industries that provide for our armed services. There is no way that we would want to sweep that under the carpet.]