Ebusiness minister Patricia Hewitt today became embroiled in a 'cachet for questions' scandal after it emerged that her office has been hijacking Trade and Industry Question Time by forcing tame questions onto MPs.
Anne Campbell, one of Hewitt's ministerial aides, angered some Labour MPs by sending out a memo listing 21 "friendly questions" which she urged should be tabled to the ebusiness minister.
Campbell's attempts to subvert the Question Time process were condemned as "an abuse of the system" by Nicholas Winterton, chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee. Opposition MPs were also quick to attack the minister. One Liberal Democrat MP described the move as making a "mockery" of Parliament.
The publication of the latest round of Trade and Industry questions yesterday showed that Campbell had been at least partially successful, with 20 per cent of tabled questions for the forthcoming week closely resembling her tame suggestions.
One such suggestion was: "To ask the Secretary of State what is being done to create a healthy environment for growing hi-tech businesses."
Phyllis Starkey, MP for Milton Keynes South West, did not stray far from this message when she asked: "To ask the Secretary of State what the department is doing to create the environment for growing hi-tech businesses in Milton Keynes."
However, the scheme backfired after one disgruntled Labour MP leaked a copy of the controversial memo to the Financial Times.
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