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Procedural Data Programme

Volume 521: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011

7. What progress the procedural data programme has made on the provision in electronic form to the Official Report of the text of answers to parliamentary questions. (34735)

On 16 December, the procedural data programme board agreed to the project initiation document for a pilot project on electronic delivery of answers. That pilot is due to end in March 2011. The project team will produce a report recommending next steps, which the board will consider in May.

I was astonished to learn of the inefficient process by which—in the 21st century—written answers are published in Hansard. They are typed in the Department and delivered by hand to the House as a print-out, at which point the Hansard reporters have to type them again. I am glad that the Commission is considering changing the process, but may I urge it to do so quickly, and to recognise that short-term costs such as the cost of the necessary software will be outweighed by long-term savings in staff time?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her approval of the steps that the Commission is taking. The process is somewhat complicated, not least because no two Departments use exactly the same technology when preparing answers, and a large amount of business analysis must be conducted to produce a sufficiently detailed understanding of their working practices. However, resource expenditure of £34,970 has been invested in the project, and we will work as expeditiously as possible to arrive at a resolution.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we would save a huge amount of money if written answers and early-day motions were published electronically rather than being printed?

A key part of the savings programme as a whole is considering all the instances in which the use of electronic media would improve the service to Members and reduce costs, while also having the environmental benefit of reducing the use of paper. The Commission certainly intends to consider those matters.