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Leader of the House

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 10 July 2014

The Leader of the House was asked—

Statements

1. What recent guidance he has given to his ministerial colleagues on making statements to the House before they are made to the media. (904788)

The ministerial code is clear: when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made to Parliament in the first instance, and I regularly remind my colleagues of that.

Does the Leader of the House think that it is acceptable that the media are reporting that the Government have paused the proposed sale of the Land Registry when the Business Secretary has not yet made a statement to the House?

I am not aware of the media reports to which the hon. Lady refers. I will, of course, look at them, but as far as I am concerned announcements are made to the House first. I cannot always preclude speculation in the press, which is sometimes well informed and sometimes very badly informed. I do not necessarily reach the same conclusion, but I will ensure that I let her know what the situation is.

That is all very well, but the Leader of the House has eight minutes and 14 seconds to tell the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that they should not be making a speech to the media about their intention to legislate next week before a speech is made to this House.

The hon. Gentleman will know, and the House will have seen, that the Home Secretary will be making a statement. Indeed, I will be making a business statement, too. Sometimes it is necessary for the public to be told at what is, effectively, broadly the same time as Parliament itself.

Written Questions

2. What recent guidance he has given to his ministerial colleagues about providing timely answers to written questions. (904790)

Both I and the Leader of the House regularly remind ministerial colleagues of their obligation to give accurate, timely and truthful information to Parliament, as set out further in the ministerial code and included in the guidance issued by the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons.

Two weeks ago I raised with the Leader of the House a series of parliamentary questions on the important issue of passports to which I had not had answers. He helpfully wrote to the said Department, and I have had a nice letter back, but I have still not had answers to the parliamentary questions. The questions were tabled on 4 June, and they were on pertinent matters to do with passports. Can a timetable be set for when answers should be given to Members?

I was aware that the right hon. Gentleman had raised those questions with my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary. As I am sure the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) is aware, the Home Office, like other large Departments, receives a very large number of complex questions, and it takes time to produce a thorough response. Home Office Ministers take their responsibilities seriously, and indeed I had occasion yesterday to remind them of those responsibilities.

3. What recent guidance he has given to his ministerial colleagues about providing substantive answers to written questions. (904791)

The Office of the Leader of the House of Commons provides guidance to all Departments on the practice of answering parliamentary questions. The guidance advises Departments that Members should receive a substantive response to named day questions on the date specified and that Departments should endeavour to answer ordinary written questions within a working week of their being tabled.

In a recent TheyWorkForYou survey, it was found that less than half of parliamentary questions receive a satisfactory response. Does the Deputy Leader of the House think that is acceptable?

I am aware of that report. The only thing I will say is that people’s judgment of whether a response is satisfactory is down to them.

What changes does the Deputy Leader of the House consider necessary to improve the quality of ministerial replies to written questions about the performance of agencies and non-departmental public bodies, because Ministers sometimes appear to be acting as no more than mailboxes?

If there are individual cases that the hon. Gentleman would like to raise with me, I am happy to pursue them with the appropriate Departments and bodies. Of course, he has the opportunity to refer any concerns to the Procedure Committee.

On 6 December 2010, the Home Secretary replied to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), stating:

“We are also taking steps to ensure that the database will, for the first time, hold the profiles of all serving prisoners and all those previously convicted of serious crimes”—[Official Report, 6 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 99W.]

A few weeks ago I asked

“how many DNA profiles of current prisoners have not been added to the DNA database”

but was told:

“The information requested is not held.”—[Official Report, 2 July 2014; Vol. 583, c. 645W.]

How on earth can Ministers say that something will definitely happen and then, at a later date, say that they have no mechanism for judging whether or not it is taking place?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Clearly it is a complex matter that he has serious concerns about. If he would like to write to me with the specifics, I am happy to follow it up with the Home Secretary.

The failure to implement universal credit and personal independence payments has left the Department for Work and Pensions in complete chaos, so is the Deputy Leader of the House surprised that two out of every three of its answers to written questions are judged by the public not to have answered the question? What does he intend to do to get DWP to improve that sorry state of affairs?

I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says about universal credit, which I think will be a success. As I understand it, it is something that she and her party support. With regard to concerns about whether questions are accurate and satisfactory, I suspect that many of the respondents will have got a perfectly factual response, but perhaps not the one they wanted to hear.

In May I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer a named day question about Treasury research on the number of jobs in the UK that are dependent on Europe. What I received back from one of the Ministers was complete waffle, and it was late. A couple of weeks ago the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was able to confirm that 3.3 million jobs in the UK are dependent on Europe. What can the Deputy Leader of the House do to correct that quality of answer?

I thank my hon. Friend, who I think has corrected the quality of the answer by pointing out that 3.3 million jobs in the UK are dependent on our trade with Europe.