Memorandum submitted by
the Principal Clerk, Table Office (P30, 2010-11)|
1. The Procedure Committee has asked for a note
to follow up the informal discussion on 27 October. I share the
Committee's interest in restoring questions as an effective tool
for backbench Members to press for action or seek information
and as a key element of the House's scrutiny function.
2. In the week beginning 18 October 2010 the
number of questions handled by the Table Office was:
3. In the last parliamentary session of normal length, the
|Number of Questions which appeared on the Order Paper:
| for written answer on a named day||8,907
| for ordinary written answer||47,285
|Total for written answer||56,192
| for oral answer||4,113
| number reached for answer in the House
|Total number of Questions||60,305
| average per sitting day||440
| of which for written answer||410
4. At present 461 Members have e-tabling accounts and 263
Members used this method in October. Of the 5,114 Questions for
written answer since 11 October to the end of the month, 2,366
were e-tabledthat is 46% of the total or, divided by 13
sitting days, 182 per day.
5. The cost of asking questions has never been fully determined.
The Government calculates the average cost of answering
a question at £425 for an oral and £154 for a written
(20 January 2010 15WS). There are substantial staff costs in processing
questions as well as significant printing costs. Each question
is retyped, printed at least twice and then printed with the answer
in Hansard. We are seeking to reduce the printing costs as part
of the savings programme initiated by the House of Commons Commission.
The cost of publishing early day motionsincluding printing,
staff time and technical supportwas recently estimated
at approximately £1 million in financial year 2009-10of
which printing alone accounts for some £776k.
6. On the same basis, we have made a rough estimate of the
cost of Questions: £1,360,000 for staff and £2,932,000
for printing, making a total of £4.5million in FY 2009/10.
Dividing this by the total number of questions for the last full
parliamentary session (2008-09)some 60,000this produces
a unit cost of £75. This is only illustrative because the
amount of staff work required differs between orals and writtens.
7. The Committee has asked whether it would be possible to
limit to ten the number of questions which could be tabled electronically
8. No Member regularly tables more than 10 every day. Recently
one Member tabled 120 questions via e-tabling between 11 and 28
October at an average of 9.2 per sitting day. On Monday 26 October,
13 Members tabled more than 10 questions via e-tabling and a further
2 tabled precisely 10. So a quota of 10 would have affected 13
Members and reduced the number of questions via e-tabling that
day by 90.
9. A daily limit of 10 questions submitted by e-tabling is
technically possible and would require some minor development
work. In cases of immediate need it would always be possible for
a Member to table further questions in person in the Table Office.
Some Members do e-table their orals and in a few cases this might
be up to ten orals sent to the Table Office on one day. To avoid
inconveniencing such Members, a notice could be included on the
e-tabling system asking for the limit to be lifted to enable them
to clear a batch of oral questions.
10. The service provided to Members attending in person in
the Table Office could be improved if there was a cut-off time
for e-tabling say 6.00pm each sitting day (and 1.00pm on Fridays).
After that time, only questions tabled in person in the Office
would be printed the following day. Such a standard limit, applying
on all days, might also give greater clarity to Memberscompared
with the "rise of the House" which varies from day to
day. A similar cut-off time for added names to EDMs would also
be helpful. Members could still table new EDMs, and add names
to EDMs tabled that day, up to the rise of the House.
11. Another problem with e-tabling is the doubt whether the
Member has actually authorised his or her staff to initiate a
parliamentary proceeding or whether this is being done without
authorisation by people who are not elected. A higher degree of
authentication would be needed to ensure the integrity of this
Principal Clerk, Table Office