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Controlling the Executive through Ministerial Statements

Ministers explain policy changes or, if something has gone seriously wrong, explain what has happened and what they are doing to put it right to the Commons and MPs have the chance to question aspects of this.

The constitutional convention of Ministerial Responsibility to Parliament requires Ministers to be in Parliament and answer for their policies and what happens in the Departments.

In the 1990s Ministers started to announce a change of policy by press release or press conference and the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, intervened to remind them that they should announce policy in Parliament first and they have mostly been kept in line. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will also make statements on their regular meetings with their counterparts in other countries or on what they are doing in relation to foreign policy crises.

Examination of these statements is mostly effective. Here the style of debate of Westminster helps. Other Parliaments often depend on set speeches from a central podium.

In all Westminster debates the process works by a Minister or MP speaking and then interruptions by other MPs to make a point or answer a question.

The person speaking doesn’t have to give way to anyone else but it is accepted practice and the Commons becomes very restive if it is ignored.

The too and fro makes discussion more lively and also means that Ministers have to keep on their toes and not just read out what has been prepared for them by civil servants.