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Parliamentary Questions

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he has any proposals to raise the advisory cost limit of £250 for answering parliamentary questions.

Yes. The advisory limit was last increased in 1988 Official Report 14 March 1988 col. 429. Its purpose is to act as a threshold for disproportionate cost PQs. Any written PQ where the marginal cost of preparing the answer is considered likely to exceed the threshold may be referred to the appropriate Minister and an answer may be refused in whole or in part on the ground of disproportionate cost. Alternatively the Minister may decide that the PQ is to be answered irrespective of cost.This threshold applies to the marginal cost and not the full cost of a written PQ. For the marginal cost, the divisional costs of preparing the answer are estimated—i.e. the costs in divisions (without taking account of the standing cost of parliamentary branches). The fixed cost of staff accommodation is also excluded from this marginal cost calculation and this also contributes to ease of calculation in Departments.When the threshold was last increased in 1988, the average marginal cost was £33 and the £250 threshold was a multiple of nearly eight times the average. A survey of costs in 1991 has shown that the average marginal cost of a written PQ is now £50. To reflect this the advisory limit is being raised today to £400 so that the same multiple of eight times the average will apply. There is no advisory cost limit for oral parliamentary questions.