Select Committee on Public Administration Ninth Report



  Letters from Members of Parliament

  Letter from the Rt Hon Frank Field, Member of Parliament for Birkenhead

Thank you very much for including in the final report the submission I made to your inquiry on answering Parliamentary Questions.

Your inquiry's work suggested that this is an issue in which there remains some mileage. Enclosed are the most recent ten answers I have received from the Treasury. Of the ten only one (152513) did not receive a holding reply.

In my experience The Treasury is the worst offender, although not too dissimilar records could be compiled for other Government Departments.

7 March 2001

  Examples of answer by HM Treasury

PQ Nos. 146102, 146892, 148749, 151466, 151513, 151766, 151767 and 151769

I shall let the Rt hon Member have a reply as soon as possible.

PQ Nos. 142079, 146892 and 151769

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician. I have asked him to reply.

Frank Field MP


Letter from the Rt Hon Frank Field, Member of Parliament for Birkenhead

Following on from the very helpful report your committee published last session looking at PQs I thought I would draw to your attention something that you might like to follow up again this session.

Enclosed are copies of answers to three PQs where the Minister simply refers the Member to a publication in the Library. I have only looked at one file of my PQs to find the answers here, and dozens of similar answers have been given recently.

This kind of answering is used to avoid placing material on the Parliamentary record, which Ministers know is widely read in influential circles, including journalists. If the whole point of a PQ is to obtain information on Parliamentary record this can't be justified—particularly given the imbalance of resources between Government Departments and MPs.

Can I suggest that this might be one part of another inquiry to bring these issues to the fore in the coming months?

12 November 2001

  Examples of answer by Department for Work and Pensions

PQ No. 10460

The latest estimate for the monetary value of fraud and error in Housing Benefit was published in the report "National Housing Benefit Accuracy Review 97/98" which is in the Library. In April this year we set up the Housing Benefit review which will deliver an ongoing measurement of fraud and error in Housing Benefit.

PQ No. 5216

The latest information can be found in opportunity for All, One Year on: making a difference (Cm 4865). Copies of this report have been placed in the Library.

Frank Field MP


  Letter from Peter Ainsworth, Member of Parliament for East Surrey

May I draw your attention to the small but perhaps telling example of sloppy practice to the answering of Written Questions.

I tabled Question Number 15520 to Margaret Beckett on 13 November. On 16 November, I received a holding reply. On 4 December the Secretary of State's substantive reply referred me to her comments made during the Second Reading of the Animal Health Bill which took place on 12 November. In other words, a holding reply was issued four days after the information I was seeking, according to the Minister, was already available.

Needless to say, the reason I tabled the question in the first place was because the matter had been raised and inadequately dealt with the day before.

Peter Ainsworth MP

6 December 2001


  Letter from Norman Baker, Member of Parliament for Lewes

I am writing on an important matter concerning a parliamentary answer to one of my questions.

I would like to draw your attention to my question to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and answered on 4 December 2001, requested information on flights carrying radioactive waste. The response was that "this Department does not hold statistical information of this nature" (Official Report 4/12/01; Vol.376, c. 286W).

However, I have discovered that an almost identical question in 1997 elicited a response that included figures on how many flights carried high, low and intermediate grade radioactive waste.

I am genuinely concerned that, despite recent guidance from Mr Speaker to Ministers to be as helpful as possible, it seems that the Government is actually being less open than before, even misleading. I would be grateful if you could look into this matter.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

13 December 2001

  Examples of answer by Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

PQ No. 20175

This Department does not hold statistical information of this nature.

PQ No. 7599

The Department does not hold information of the kind requested. However, it is estimated that of the order of 10,000 flights carrying packages of radioactive material currently occur each year, the vast majority of which contain limited quantities for medical or industrial use in excepted or Type A packages.

PQ No. 9210

It is estimated that less than 5% of such flights carry packages of radioactive material containing in excess of the quantities previously referred to. For transport purposes the terms high-level and intermediate level radioactive material are undefined.

Norman Baker MP


  Letter from Cheryl Gillan, Member of Parliament for Chesham and Amersham

In December, Mr Speaker made a statement about the length of time which Ministers and Departments have been taking to reply to Written Questions. I believe that Mr Speaker's concerns may also have included the time taken to deal with correspondence from Members of Parliament.

I wondered whether the Administration Committee might take into consideration the length of time taken to transfer correspondence between Departments. As you will see from the enclosed copy correspondence, I wrote to the Department of Work and Pensions on 10 October about The Queen's Jubilee Medal. That Department replied on 16 October to say they had transferred the correspondence to the Home Office. The Home Office then replied just over one month after my original letter to inform me that correspondence was being transferred again, this time to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

This seems an inordinately long time for Departments to decide amongst themselves who should have responsibility for the answer. Of course this adds to the timelag before the constituent receives a substantive reply. If the Chairman of the Committee would agree to consider this alongside the other issues, I and my constituents would be very grateful.

7 January 2002

  Questions from Tony Wright, Member of Parliament for Cannock Chase

  Example of answer by the Prime Minister

PQ No. 30754: To ask the Prime Minister, if he plans to follow the precedent of the 1975 referendum on membership of the Common Market in respect of the Government's agreement to differ in a referendum on membership of the single European currency as binding.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on 2 November 2001, Official Report, column 883W.

28 January 2002

  Answer referred to in PQ No. 30754 above.

PQ No. 11099: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the proposed date for referendum on euro entry.

The Government's policy on the euro remains as set out by the Chancellor in his statement to Parliament in October 1997 and restated by the Prime Minister in February 1999. The Government have said they will complete an assessment of the five tests within two years of the start of this Parliament. Once the assessment has been completed, the Government will make a decision on UK membership of the single currency. If the Government recommend UK entry, it will be put to a vote in Parliament and then to a referendum of the British people.

2 November 2001

  Example of answer by the Prime Minister

PQ No. 36528: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his Answer of 28th January, Official Report, column 25W, on single European currency, if he will explain the connection between the question to him on 25th January and his Answer of 28th January.

I referred the hon. Member to an Answer which sets out the Government policy on the euro.

25 February 2002

  Example of answer by the Cabinet Office

PQ No. 54244: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the public bodies which are required to report to Parliament.

Where a public body is under a statutory obligation to report to Parliament, this is set out in the relevant statute.

As set out in "Quangos: Opening the Doors", the Government believe that all advisory and executive non-departmental public bodies should produce and make publicly available annual reports. However, in the case of the small advisory bodies, these need only be short reports with costs of producing them kept to a minimum. The intention is that the next edition of the annual public bodies publication should include, for the first time, summary information on the arrangements that each body has in place for ensuring greater transparency in their work.

20 May 2002


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