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

External link to clip

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