Lawyers sometimes say that you should never ask a witness a question during trial to which you don’t the answer to. The same principles usually operates in Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons where the question and answer session is really one of “statement” followed by “statement” (even though the statements are dressed up as questions and answers).
Never, never, never on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby food. Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want. (Harper Lee)
Jeremy Corbyn seemed to forget this fact on Wednesday (18th April) when he asked the Prime Minister, Theresa May, what role she had in the destruction of the landing cards in 2010 by the Home Office, a revelation which had recently come to light. May already had the facts at her fingers and quickly replied that the decision to destroy the cards had been made in 2009 when the Labour government was in power. This set off the Conservative benches with a mocking cry of ‘ah’ for over 10 seconds which put Corbyn on the back foot for the rest of the session.
01 JC: yesterday we learnt 02 that in two thousand and ten 03 the home office destroyed landing cards 04 for a generation of commonwealth citizens 05 and so have told people 06 we can’t find you in our system 07 did the prime minister 08 the <then home secretary> 09 sign off (.) that decision 10 SP: prime minister 11 PM: no (.) the decision to destroy the landing cards= 12 was taking in two thousand and nine= 13 under a labour government 14 ((shouts of ‘ah’ and general noise 15 from Conservative benches for at least 10 seconds)) 16 SP: Jeremy Corbyn 17 JC: mister speaker JC=Jeremy Corbyn; PM=Prime Minister; SP=The Speaker
Note how the PM delivered the lines in 11-13 with no pauses: a clear attempt to show how confident and factual her case was. There was also overlap between the end of her statement (line 13) and the onset of the shouting from the backbenches.
Corbyn followed this up with a further question about the destruction of the landing cards:
18 JC: could I remind the prime minister 19 it was her government that created (.) 20 in quotes a really hostile environment 21 for immigrants and her government 22 that introduced the two thousand and fourteen 23 immigration act 24 mister speaker 25 I think we need to some absolute clarity 26 on the question 27 of the destruction of the landing cards 28 PM: the right honourable gentleman asked me 29 if the decision to destroy the landing cards 30 the decision to destroy the landing cards 31 had been taken in my time as home secretary 32 the decision to destroy the landing cards 33 was taken in two thousand and nine 34 and as I seem to recall 35 in two thousand and nine 36 it was a labour home secretary who was in charge 37 ((general noise)) 38 SP: Jeremy Corbyn
The Guardian, 18th April 2018
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