Ministers told to 'stop burying bad news'

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Indy Politics

Ministers have been ordered to stop "burying bad news" in Parliamentary answers after a rare rebuke from the Speaker, Michael Martin. Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, promised a crackdown on replies to questions from MPs being hidden in the Parliamentary library after Mr Martin had a string of complaints.

Ministers have been ordered to stop "burying bad news" in Parliamentary answers after a rare rebuke from the Speaker, Michael Martin. Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, promised a crackdown on replies to questions from MPs being hidden in the Parliamentary library after Mr Martin had a string of complaints.

MPs had attacked ministers for using the Commons library to keep replies to questions out of the public gaze. Under Commons rules, replies to Parliamentary questions are published in Hansard and made available to reporters. But ministers can bypass the system by promising to write to MPs and place a copy of their letter in the library of the House, which is closed to the press and public.

Figures from the Conservatives show a boom in so-called "I will write" answers, which increased from 432 in 1999 to more than 1,550 last year. Party researchers said hundreds of promised letters were never even deposited in the Commons library.

Mr Hain said government departments would make "every effort" to give full answers to questions, and letters to MPs would now be published in Hansard. But he said ministers would abandon questions unanswered at the end of each parliamentary session and it would be open to ministers to give confidential information in direct letters to MPs.

But Oliver Heald, the shadow Leader of the House, said: "It is frankly amazing that the Leader of the House believes that the answer to this abuse of the system is to encourage ministers not to reply at all. I have raised this on many occasions. It's a way of burying bad news.

"The Government's use of 'will write' replies has rocketed since 2000. These answers are unsatisfactory, because the substance of the reply is lodged in the library, unavailable to the public. Ministers also have a very poor record of actually writing and placing the letter in the Library, even after they said they will."

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