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MPs don't know what questions are being asked in their names

By Jonathan Walker on Oct 13, 11 04:43 PM in Politics

MPs don't always know what questions have been asked in their names - because researchers submit the query without telling them, it has emerged.

Asking questions of Government departments is one of the key tasks of any backbench MP, whether they are in a governing party or in opposition.

While many questions are posed orally in the Commons - including the high profile Questions to the Prime Minister on Wednesday - MPs also submit written questions on a regular basis. The benefit of doing it this way is that they are guaranteed to get an answer, rather than standing up in the Chamber and hoping the Speaker calls them.

Answers are provided by Ministers (with civil servants doing much of the donkey work) at a cost to the public purse of £154 each.

But it appears that House of Commons researchers have taken to asking questions on behalf of the MPs they work for - and don't even bother to tell the MP concerned.

The practice was revealed by MP Greg Knight, Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, as he explained why MPs would be limited to posing just five questions via the Commons computer system over the next three months.

He said: "On the question of having a three-month trial quota for questions tabled electronically, the concern arose from evidence - mainly informal - from the Table Office.

"It found, when questioning the intended scope of some questions tabled electronically in Members' names, that some Members appeared to know nothing about the questions and registered surprise that they had been tabled in their name.

"The Procedure Committee took the view that, in some cases, research assistants might be using the electronic procedure to table questions without the express authority of those for whom they work."

He made clear: "Questions are a proceeding in Parliament and should not be submitted without the express and explicit authority of a Member of Parliament."

MPs will still be allowed to ask as many questions if they like if they do it the old fashioned way by writing them down and handing them over to House of Commons officials in the table office.

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Jonathan Walker

Jonathan Walker - The Birmingham Post's political editor
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David Kuczora

David Kuczora - A PR consultant working in Birmingham and living in the 'burbs
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