Skip to main content

Parliamentary Questions

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

20. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues to ensure the completeness and timeliness of answers to parliamentary questions for written answer. (321525)

I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter in the House on previous occasions—for instance, in points of order on 9 and 23 February—and that the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised it in a point of order on Tuesday. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I take any concerns felt by Members about this very seriously, and we have held meetings and written to Ministers about their performance in answering parliamentary questions.

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for taking the matter seriously, but I am afraid that her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions apparently do not. However, she will be pleased to learn—as, I am sure, will you, Mr. Speaker—that some progress has been made since I raised my point of order: only 19 of my questions are now outstanding, although eight have been outstanding for more than a month. At least the Department has answered my question about how many named day written questions it does answer on time—and I am sorry to say that for the last three years it has been the pitifully low proportion of 30 per cent. The position has not got worse, which is something, but it has not got any better either. In the few remaining weeks of the current Parliament, what efforts will the Deputy Leader of the House—and, indeed, the Leader of the House—make to persuade the Department to take its responsibilities to the House seriously?

As the hon. Gentleman says, we have taken specific action in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions. The previous Deputy Leader of the House wrote to the Department and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I met a Minister and officials to discuss their performance. My office recently spoke to officials again. The Leader of the House has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and both she and I spoke to the Secretary of State yesterday.

I can tell my hon. Friend that many of us are given a very good service by most Departments, but I have one caveat: when the Cabinet Minister representing a Department is in another place, I find that I receive much slower service from the Department concerned.

We have accepted recommendations from the Procedure Committee, and new procedures will operate in the new Parliament. There will be regular monitoring of late answering of questions, and further work will be done on challenging unsatisfactory answers. Better guidance on answering questions has already been provided for Ministers and officials, and the Prime Minister recently wrote to Cabinet colleagues reminding them of the need to answer questions both fully and in a timely manner.