Ministerial statements

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19.21Ministers have a presumptive right to make statements in the House, at this point, on a range of topics within their ministerial remit. These may include policy and administration matters (the Speaker has ruled that such statements must relate to ministerial matters being made on behalf of the Government and not be delivered in a personal or party capacity)1; stating the advice they have tendered to the Sovereign regarding their retention of office or the dissolution of Parliament; announcing the legislative proposals they intend to submit to Parliament; or the course they intend to adopt in the transaction and arrangement of public business. Such statements are usually volunteered spontaneously.2 Prior notice to the Speaker is required and other than in exceptional circumstances should be given before the daily conference3 but neither the Speaker's permission4 nor the leave of the House5 is required where the statement is to be made in the period after questions and before the commencement of public business (for statements at other times, the Speaker's consent is required – see further below). Neither the content of a ministerial statement, nor of answers given in response to questions following a statement, are a matter for the Speaker.6 The Speaker has declined to call Members seeking to pose questions beyond the scope of the original statement.7 The Speaker has expressed support for the principle that statements on important matters should be made in the House first8 and also indicated a preference that oral ministerial statements should not be made on opposition days.9

Whenever possible, notice is given to Members of an impending oral statement by a Minister. Notices are placed in the Members' Lobby, on Parliament's website and displayed on the annunciator. Since 2007, Ministers have also been able to table notices of intention to make an oral statement for inclusion on the Order Paper.

Between 2002 and 2008, copies of statements were made available to Members in the Chamber as soon as the Minister sat down or at the same time as the statement was made available in the Press Gallery, whichever was the earlier,10 but in 2008 the Speaker stated that the system had not operated as intended and ruled that copies of statements should be made available to Members and to the Press Gallery when the Minister sits down.11 When statements are made first in the House of Lords, the Speaker has indicated that copies of that statement should be made available from the Vote Office as soon as they are available in the Lords.12 Advance copies are usually made available to opposition spokespersons as a matter of courtesy and under the terms of the Ministerial Code,13 and a statement has been postponed by the Speaker on the grounds that the opposition had had too little time to study it in advance of its being made; but such a request for postponement has also been declined in other circumstances.14 The Speaker has made it clear that the media should not be informed about the content of statements before they have been made to the House (and that the same principle applies to written ministerial statements).15

As no question is before the House, a formal debate on such statements is irregular,16 but questions arising from the statement are raised17 and replies given by the Minister. It is not the normal practice for questions on more than one statement to be taken at the same time.18 Debate on a ministerial statement has been raised upon a motion for adjournment, moved for that purpose.19 A statement relating to an adjourned debate, which was shortly to be resumed, has been allowed.20

By convention only those Members present in the Chamber to hear the entirety of a statement are called to question Ministers on that statement.21 While there are no mandatory time limits set for such statements and subsequent questioning, the Speaker announced in 2016 that rules developed following recommendations from the Modernisation Committee in 2002 would be applied more stringently than had been the case, with the opening ministerial statement lasting no longer than ten minutes, the reply of the Official Opposition limited to five minutes, and the spokesperson for the third largest party restricted to a maximum of two minutes.22 (Longer statements can be tolerated where circumstances justify, with other contributions extended proportionately if the Minister has been given longer.)23 Latitude has been given to an individual Member personally affected by the content of the statement.24

While these statements are usually taken immediately after questions (including urgent questions), and before the commencement of the main business of the day, ministerial statements, including statements on future business, have exceptionally been permitted by the Speaker, where circumstances justify it, at other times, for example:

  • immediately after prayers25 or after Members had been sworn26 on a day when the House had been recalled;
  • after the disposal of motions at the commencement of public business;27
  • following the moment of interruption;28
  • immediately before the half-hour adjournment debate.29

In extremis, the Speaker has also permitted statements between orders of the day30 and even during the course of consideration on an order of the day.31

Substantive interventions by Ministers on points of order may be treated by the Speaker as statements, so that questions may be raised on them and replies given;32 however, whether or not to do so is entirely at the Speaker's discretion.33

The Speaker may make statements to the House on matters of procedure or practice.34 The Speaker also makes statements in connection with arrangements for ceremonial occasions,35 the appointment and retirement of officials of the House,36 and has noted the death of a former Member (not a Prime Minister),37 etc. (For Speaker's rulings on matters of privilege, see para 15.32.)

For explanations made by Members of their reasons for resigning an office in the Government, see para 19.24.

A Minister may give notice of their intention to make a written ministerial statement on a day not later than five sitting days after that notice.38 All such written statements are printed in the Official Report. The Speaker has indicated that written statements should be delivered to the Library promptly on the day for which notice has been given.39 In 2013, standing orders were amended to enable any Member to whom questions may be addressed to make a written statement, a facility first employed in June 2013 by the Member representing the Speaker's Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.40 The decision on whether to make a statement orally or in writing is a matter for Ministers.41

Footnotes

  1. 1. HC Deb (3 November 2008) 482, c 21; ibid (19 March 2015) 594, c 905. On one occasion, government Ministers made two statements on the same topic on the same day: ibid (29 November 2012) 554, c 470 (statement by the Deputy Prime Minister on the Leveson Report on press freedom, immediately after a statement from the Prime Minister on the same topic).
  2. 2. HC Deb (1938–39) 350, cc 2174–76; ibid 352, cc 173–74; ibid (1941–42) 380, cc 1982–83.
  3. 3. HC Deb (1942–43) 392, c 394; ibid (1984–85) 69, cc 173–74. For an example of such notice being given orally in the House, see ibid (1983–84) 46, cc 789, 797–801.
  4. 4. HC Deb (1963–64) 698, c 414; ibid (1985–86) 91, c 306; ibid (2000–01) 363, c 21; ibid (13 October 2008) 480, c 631; ibid (3 November 2008) 482, c 21; ibid (19 March 2015) 594, c 905.
  5. 5. HC Deb (1942–43) 390, c 2267; ibid (1983–84) 62, cc 490–91; ibid (1995–96) 282, c 30; ibid (13 October 2008) 480, c 631.
  6. 6. HC Deb (12 February 2013) 558, cc 726–77.
  7. 7. HC Deb (24 May 2012) 545, c 1295.
  8. 8. HC Deb (1 April 2008) 474, c 627; ibid (6 November 2008) 482, c 372; ibid (7 May 2009) 492, c 389; ibid (24 June 2009) 494, c 797; ibid (29 June 2009) 495, c 43; ibid (1 July 2009) 495, c 423; ibid (19 January 2010) 504, c 163; ibid (30 June 2010) 512, cc 864 and 1018.
  9. 9. HC Deb (2002–03) 406, cc 701, 840.
  10. 10. HC Deb (2002–03) 396, c 21, following a recommendation of the Modernisation Committee (Second Report, HC 1168-I (2001–02)).
  11. 11. HC Deb (9 June 2008) 477, c 21.
  12. 12. HC Deb (17 March 2010) 507, c 879.
  13. 13. HC Deb (2001–02) 380, c 709; Cabinet Office, Ministerial Code, January 2018, para 9.5.
  14. 14. HC Deb (1996–97) 303, cc 656, 677–98, when a statement was postponed from 3.30 pm to 5 pm and taken as an interruption to a second reading debate; ibid (2001–02) 381, c 303. For rejection of a request to postpone a statement because the Opposition frontbench had not received advance copies, see ibid (15 October 2012) 551, c 34. Where a significant document is to be published alongside a statement, the Speaker has suspended the House to allow Members to access the document, see ibid (12 July 2018) 644, c 1156.
  15. 15. HC Deb (2002–03) 398, c 1009; ibid (2007–08) 475, c 1214; ibid (30 June 2009) 495, cc 181–82; ibid (28 June 2010) 512, cc 599 and 863; ibid (21 November 2011) 536, c 62; ibid (6 May 2008) 475, c 571.
  16. 16. HC Deb (1939–40) 361, cc 796–97; ibid (1941–42) 376, cc 1698–99; but see also ibid (1948–49) 464, cc 373–74. The Speaker has reminded Members that they should ask a question in response to a ministerial statement, not make a speech or counter-statement: ibid (8 May 2007) 460, c 25; ibid (19 June 2007) 461, c 1243; ibid (26 March 2009) 490, c 469.
  17. 17. The Speaker has indicated that Members who wish to put questions in relation to a ministerial statement should be in the Chamber at the time when the statement is made, HC Deb (1995–96) 279, c 1020.
  18. 18. HC Deb (1979–80) 985, c 1047.
  19. 19. Parl Deb (1884) 290, c 696; Parl Deb (1905) 150, c 70; HC Deb (1914) 65, c 1833; ibid (1948–49) 458, c 1415.
  20. 20. HC Deb (1962–63) 675, cc 1097–104.
  21. 21. See, for example, HC Deb (1995–96) 279, c 1020; ibid (17 May 2011) 528, c 180.
  22. 22. HC Deb (18 May 2016) 611, c 2.
  23. 23. Second Report, HC 1168-I (2001–02); HC Deb (20 November 2012) 553, cc 443–46.
  24. 24. HC Deb (19 December 2013) 572, cc 913 and 919–20.
  25. 25. HC Deb (2001–02) 372, c 671.
  26. 26. HC Deb (2001–02) 372, c 603.
  27. 27. HC Deb (1916) 84, c 573.
  28. 28. HC Deb (1981–82) 21, cc 619–21; ibid (1984–85) 72, c 244; ibid (1985–86) 102, c 1504; ibid (1987–88) 120, c 1093; ibid (1990–91) 195, cc 714–27; ibid (1998–99) 328, cc 1204–18; ibid (2001–02) 379, cc 1126–47; ibid (4 November 2004) 426, c 539 (when the statement and responses lasted only three minutes); ibid (7 March 2012) 541, c 952 ff.
  29. 29. HC Deb (2002–03) 404, cc 642–63; ibid (2004–05) 436, cc 404–18; ibid (17 July 2017) 627, c 661.
  30. 30. HC Deb (1979–80) 980, cc 1664–67; ibid (2002–03) 407, c 996; ibid (2003–04) 417, cc 293 and 337–58; ibid (2003–04) 423, cc 1391 and 1431–51.
  31. 31. HC Deb (1981–82) 23, c 120 (military action); ibid (1997–98) 303, cc 656, 677–98; ibid (2002–03) 404, cc 439–42 and 459 ff (postponement of Northern Ireland Assembly elections); ibid (16 March 2020) 673, c 697 (COVID-19); ibid (5 July 2021) 698, c 584 (COVID-19). On the other hand, the Speaker has ruled that a statement should not interrupt timetabled business, ibid (2002–03) 401, c 629; ibid (2002–03) 406, c 21. A statement begun after substantive business had ended, but before the moment of interruption, has continued over the moment of interruption, ibid (17 March 2022) 710, cc 1140–53.
  32. 32. HC Deb (1985–86) 91, cc 958–65; ibid (1990–91) 189, cc 374–80; ibid (1994–95) 251, cc 280–83.
  33. 33. HC Deb (1997–98) 319, cc 1042–43.
  34. 34. For example, HC Deb (1983–84) 54, c 130; ibid (1986–87) 116, c 261; ibid (1987–88) 140, c 511; ibid (1996–97) 299, c 451; ibid (9 March 2015) 594, c 23.
  35. 35. For example, HC Deb (1985–86) 94, c 19; ibid (1987–88) 137, c 533.
  36. 36. For example, HC Deb (2002–03) 395, c 317; ibid (5 July 2006) 448, c 815; ibid (30 June 2011) 530, c 1106.
  37. 37. HC Deb (17 March 2014) 577, c 555.
  38. 38. HC Deb (2001–02) 391, c 803. Notices of written statements may be tabled on three days during the summer adjournment, in September, and the statements made on a further three days in September, under SO No 22B; these provisions are not invoked if the House sits in September.
  39. 39. HC Deb (4 December 2003) 415, c 666; see also ibid (28 October 2009) 498, c 297.
  40. 40. HC Deb (20 June 2013) 564, c 41–2WS.
  41. 41. HC Deb (11 December 2008) 485, c 704; ibid (8 February 2011) 523, c 160.