Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Curveball questions that make you wonder?

Reading through Hansard is an interesting pastime (seriously). You get a real feel of what backbench MPs get up to in terms fo questioning the Government and holding it to account. You also start to know who asked what sort of questions.

For example, Mark Hoban, the MP for Fareham, has a tendency to ask what seem like obscure and sometimes quirky financial questions about spending in each department. What you learn to realise over time as you read though is how questions follow on from others and build up towards a revelation.

Think of it like this, if he asks how much the furniture spend is in the Wales Office it seems frivilous, but when you realise he's asking similar questions across Government you start to see the scale of what is being spent when you start to add it up, and then, you usually see a story in the papers about it.

You really do get the feeling that behind questions there is a driver and specifc reason for it being asked. Sometimes there are questions that seem so out of place, so curveball, that you find it difficult not to assume that the MP asking has some sort of specific intelligence on a subject.

This leads me neatly on to my favourite Lib Dem MP, Lynne Featherstone, who the other day wrote to Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, and asked,
how many children have been excluded from school for being HIV positive in each of the last five years for which figures are available.
This is exactly one of those curveball questions that leapt out at me yesterday. It's such a strange question to ask unless you have heard, or perhaps know, of someone that it has happened too.

I could be wrong of course, it might just be that some researcher in Lynne's office suddenly thought the question up and it was submitted on the random off-chance of discovering something that would be pretty outrageous and frankly quite ignorant. However, my nose just can't help twitching a bit... such a strange question to randomly ask.... no?

Note: For anyone wondering the Government's response was: "Pupils can only be excluded in response to breaches of school behaviour policy. No pupils should be excluded for being HIV positive."


Fahrenheit said...

It's a suspiciously worded answer too.

It only confirms the theory - that no child *should* be excluded for being HIV positive - but doesn't mention the reality - i.e. whether any child actually *has* been excluded for that reason.

Good find, it will be interesting to see if she keeps digging on it.

Matthew Cain said...

Farenheit - How do you expect central government to police every school's application of the exclusion rules?

marksany said...

I've talked to my MP (Andrew MacKinley)about some of the strange questions he asks. He told me that some are on subjects that he is personally interested in, some are in his efforts to hold the government to account and many are to do with issues that constituents have raised.

Richard Holloway said...

There is a very fine art to it I'll imagine. Asking obscure questions so that your intent is not revealed.

Dizzy, what tips would you give to someone who wanted to start reading Hansard?
I'm getting increasingly annoyed at the way the newspapers package the stories into a particular theme, or in the BBC's case direct from the Labour press office. I'd love to start getting my lies directly from the horses mouth, from MPs direct. At least then I get to sort the wheat from the chaff and not let some lobby reporter decide what the 'line' on a story is.

Anonymous said...

Uh, uh, not so simple. There have been exclusions for severe allergy and anaphylaxis cases. Not many, but I doubt that there are any figures on this. Also, what about those for lice? The behaviour reason can be a catch all for a number of inconvenient issues. said...

The Times "school gate" blog wrote a piece about this a few days ago. Basically, they reckon that a few kids really are kicked out or, more likely, not allowed in in the first place, for being HIV positive. Probably worth a read.

Anonymous said...

Trawling questions are out of order: MPs have to demonstrate a factual basis for every question submitted.

Armchair Sceptic said...

Well, given that (a) parts of Featherstone's constituency (Hornsey & Wood Green) are pretty rough, i.e. in Haringey, and (b) she is clearly referring to teenagers here, and (c) such areas have high rates of underage sex/teenage pregnancy, then (d) HIV is a STD -- there is a risk of an HIV positive teenager, who is not open about it, spreading it to other teenagers and a possible offspring???

Hence, precautionary exclusion.

Born Today said...

As I recall women's hour on radio 4 had a bit on this in the summer.

(It's easier to listen to that then return the radio...and I'm to lazy to turn it off)

Elby the Beserk said...

"Curveball"? Googlie, please. We are not Americans, FFS

Mr Eugenides said...

Fahrenheit is correct; it is a very carefully worded answer, isn't it?

James Higham said...

You really do get the feeling that behind questions there is a driver and specifc reason for it being asked. Sometimes there are questions that seem so out of place, so curveball, that you find it difficult not to assume that the MP asking has some sort of specific intelligence on a subject.

That does seem to be so.

................................. said...

that sort of question is generally asked when an MP is onto something.

The answer is rather opaque, but that's because LF didn't phrase it well enough to extract the information she was after.

Of course the school will have found a different reason to exclude the pupil; she should have asked how many excluded pupils were believed to be hiv+ and worked up another answer based on the reply she received.

The Govt will only answer the question its asked, in its most literal interpretation. They will never give more information than is specifically asked for.

Drafting PQ's is a wonderful artform.