Yes, Minister!

Justice Minister Jane Poole-Wilson has taken the unusual step of tabling written Tynwald questions for a cabinet colleague.

JPW last week tabled three questions for Health and Social Care Minister Lawrie Hooper. One was even answered the same day it was tabled (Friday), which coincidentally – or perhaps not –  was the day after the Council of Ministers’ regular meet-up.

Tynwald questions are widely viewed as a mechanism for backbenchers to obtain information.

Although it’s not the first time in recent history a cabinet member has tabled a written question, it is the only one from minister to minister.

Last year, the former Education Minister Alex Allinson tabled a question for chairman of the House of Keys Education Bill subcommittee chairman – backbencher Jason Moorhouse – about when it was due to report back.

But we couldn’t find any examples of written Tynwald questions/answers between cabinet members in 2021-22.

This term, a new system for written questions is in place. Questions are no longer attached to particular Tynwald or Keys sittings – instead appearing online with ‘date answer due’ allocated.

Lawrie Hooper did have a question tabled last month, which predated his appointment to the cabinet.

The same-day answer to JPW’s latest question may raise a few backbench eyebrows, particularly from those with questions placed as far back as November 18 who are still awaiting an answer.

The question in question (sorry) asks when the Department of Health and Social Care will put the annual complaints report before Tynwald, and asks about a future publication schedule.

Mr Hooper tells JPW the DHSC plans to place the report for 2020-21 on the Tynwald Register of Business (another new thing about how Tynwald operates) on January 4, to go before parliament at the February sitting.

A publication schedule will be set out ‘within the proposed amended complaints regulations’, Mr Hooper says. The plan is within six months of the previous financial year with a fixed date for laying the report before Tynwald. The overall idea is to have all aspects of the DHSC’s annual reports to be considered at the same sitting.

A second question, tabled the same day, had not been answered as of Sunday evening. It asks when changes to the complaints process will be brought in, following a Tynwald resolution in April.

That resolution was the result of a motion tabled by Bill Shimmins, who JPW succeeded as Middle MHK in September. This might explain why she has tabled formal questions on the issue, rather than asking Mr Hooper while they are sat at the CoMin table.

But there may be unease if the new system for tabling and answering questions leads to CoMin using it for what could be seen as a cosy chat format of getting info out. It’s unlikely we’d see any awkward questions being asked, after all.

In the other question JPW had for Mr Hooper, tabled last Tuesday, she wanted to know when the next Independent Review Body for National Health Services report on the DHSC would be published.

Her CoMin colleague tells her it will be submitted by the end of the year and published online.

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