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Parliamentary Questions (Ministry of Justice)

Volume 580: debated on Thursday 8 May 2014

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the time taken by that Department to answer written parliamentary questions. (903912)

On 10 March, I submitted to the Ministry of Justice a named day parliamentary question for written answer that—nine weeks later—is yet to be answered. On 26 March, some two weeks after the answer was due, I submitted a chase-up question to inquire when the original question would be answered. To date, neither of those questions has been answered. What is worse, my assistant in Westminster has telephoned the Department weekly, and each and every time he has been told that an answer is being finalised. I am concerned about the time taken for such questions to be answered. It makes it impossible for Members to hold the Executive to account, and it is a discourtesy to my constituents if Ministers simply do not answer these questions.

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Like other large Departments, the Ministry of Justice receives a very large number of questions, and given the complex nature of its business a thorough response can take time. However, I agree that in the case of his particular question, it is simply not good enough: there needs to be a response. I know that the Secretary of State for Justice will want to take on board the hon. Gentleman’s complaint, and that he will in future ensure that Members receive timely answers setting out the information they need.

I am very disappointed that the Deputy Leader of the House is not prepared to take up this case, and I hope that he will now promise to do so. The Procedure Committee’s report on the Government’s answering of written questions makes for very uncomfortable reading for many of his colleagues. Only the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had a greater deterioration in performance than the Ministry of Justice during the last Session. Further to the previous exchange, will he clarify whether the Ministry of Justice is covering up information or is just completely incompetent?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer that I gave to the last question. We have taken up the issue and I have indicated strongly that the Secretary of State for Justice needs to ensure that there is a response. The Secretary of State for Justice does not have the worst performing Department. I am sure that it is a matter of the Department ensuring that a detailed response to the question is provided, rather than the cover-up that the hon. Gentleman implies.