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Parliamentary Questions

Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

18. What recent analysis he has carried out of the quality of ministerial answers to written parliamentary questions. (93388)

The quality of answers is generally of a high order and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House receives few complaints. He has raised those with ministerial colleagues and emphasised the need for proper answers to be given at all times

I agree with the second part of that answer, if not the first. Will the Minister recognise honestly that the quality of answers has diminished significantly in the past three or four years? Obfuscations and withholding of information are now regular occurrences. Spurious reasons for exemptions are now far more common. I hope that the Leader of the House, who has a fine record of answering questions straight, deplores that and will look at what can be done about it. When a Member is given a clearly useless and inappropriate answer where information is withheld inappropriately, should not that Member be allowed to ask Mr. Speaker to have the Minister brought here to answer the question orally?

The first half of the hon. Member's question contained a terminological inexactitude. As for the second part, we are always prepared to look at mechanisms for reviewing the position. I see and speak to colleagues from all sides of the House who may from time to time have a complaint about the way a question has been answered. I think that people will acknowledge that I am very willing to listen and to intervene, but very few of them have raised points with me or with the Leader of the House. If they put points now, I think that I would be able to tell whether they are Johnny-come-latelies or have raised that matter in the past.

Does my friend have any idea how many Members are putting in requests under the freedom of information legislation because they are so dissatisfied with the quality of information from Government Departments?

In the light of the Minister's first answer, I would like him to look at the answers from the Deputy Prime Minister. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is very important, at least in his own mind, but trying to scrutinise his Department is well nigh impossible. Does not the Deputy Leader of the House agree that a Select Committee should be able to scrutinise the Deputy Prime Minister's Department and any reports from it?

I do not recall the hon. Gentleman’s contacting us about the failure to answer questions. He knows that there is a Select Committee that is able to look at issues regarding answers to questions, and of course departmental Committees can take up the matter as well if they feel that they are not getting information from Ministers, but so far that has not been the case.