On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 18 January, I asked the Ministry of Justice, in a written question:
“how many and what proportion of sentences for each category of offence are suspended sentences.”
On 16 February, the prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), replied:
“The information requested can be found on GOV.UK”.
Clearly it took a month for the Ministry of Justice to find the information on gov.uk before it could give that answer to me. It did not indicate where on gov.uk the information could be found.
This is not the first time that such a thing has happened. It is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence with the Ministry of Justice. It seems clear to me that it is doing it deliberately to try to ensure that the information never comes to light. I will refer the matter to the Procedure Committee, but I wonder whether you, Mr Speaker, can do anything to ensure that Departments, particularly the Ministry of Justice, give us open and transparent answers rather than using this rather dishonourable tactic.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. My response is consistent with what I have said previously on the matter. First, responses should be timely, and he suffered an untimely response—he had to wait rather longer than he should have. Secondly, responses to Members’ parliamentary questions should be substantive, and he did not receive a substantive reply. Thirdly, it is one thing for a Minister answering a written question to refer to a website on which further and more detailed information might be available that would be of interest to the Member concerned, but it is quite another matter simply and blandly to refer to a website, without guidance or direction and saying nothing about where on it the Member should look, and to imagine that that is a satisfactory substitute for a straight answer to a straight question—it is not.
I know that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House take very seriously their responsibility to ensure that Ministers provide timely responses that are substantive and do not use that ruse or device. They have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point of order and my response. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter.
Prisons and Courts Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Elizabeth Truss, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Amber Rudd, Secretary Justine Greening, Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Secretary David Mundell, the Attorney General, Sir Oliver Heald and Ben Gummer, presented a Bill to make provision about prisons; make provision about practice and procedure in courts and tribunals, organisation of courts and tribunals, functions of the judiciary and of courts and tribunals and their staff, appointment and deployment of the judiciary, and functions of the Judicial Appointments Commission; and make provision about whiplash claims.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 145) with explanatory notes (Bill 145-EN).