Monday, 02 May 2011 13:05

Anger as Defra question time cut

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Anger as Defra question time cut

THE government is under fire for reducing the amount of time MPs have to quiz Defra ministers.

Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said it was wrong to reduce oral questions to 45 minutes.

The move meant there would be less time available for MPs to scrutinise environment secretary Caroline Spelman and other Defra ministers.

Until now, ministers have been quizzed on the House of Commons for an hour every four weeks.

Mrs McIntosh has published a letter about the issue from the committee to Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons.

"Defra must manage some of the country's biggest risks, not least flooding and animal disease outbreaks," she said.

"We see no justification for reducing the time available for MPs to put questions on these important subjects."

Defra is the only department to have its allocation of time for MPs' questions reduced.

The letter asks Sir George to explain the rationale behind the decision.

"There is no lack of interest in Defra's work amongst MPs" said Mrs McIntosh.

"Defra oral questions are always over-subscribed and the floor of the House of Commons is the right place to hold Ministers to account.

"Cutting down oral questions will only weaken scrutiny of the department."

The government's recent change of policy on forestry followed intense pressure from the public and questioning by MPs in the House of Commons.

The decision to cut the time allocated to Defra questions was announced by Written Ministerial Statement shortly before the start of the Easter recess.

The change reason given was to provide more time for questions to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

Sir George said the decision would be kept under review.

The time available to Defra was longer than that of 10 of the other existing oral question sessions, he added.

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