HC 800 Improving the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny

Memorandum submitted by Rt Hon Sir George Young Bt MP, Leader Of The House Of Commons (P 85, 2010-11)

WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS 2009-10

I enclose a memorandum compiled in conjunction with all Government Departments setting out the time taken by each Department to respond to House of Commons Named Day and Ordinary Written Parliamentary Questions during the 2009-10 session.

This memorandum relates to a commitment made by my predecessor as Leader of the House of Commons to provide statistics relating to the answering of Written Parliamentary Questions on a sessional basis. I have previously affirmed this commitment on behalf of this Government. I understand that the Committee will now wish to present the information to the House in due course.

I apologise for the delay in providing this information to the Committee. You will appreciate that the information provided in the attached memorandum relates to the Parliamentary Question performance of the previous administration and that there are therefore limitations to the information supplied in support of the Departmental figures. Ministers are not allowed to see papers pertaining to a previous Administration. The explanatory memorandum accompanying the figures does not therefore address specific reasons for delay in Departments answering questions. It does however address some of the general issues that affect Departmental Parliamentary Question performance.

The exercise has been a useful opportunity for Government departments to look at their data storage systems and to move towards a more standard cross-government way of recording information relating to Parliamentary Question performance. Now that these issues have been addressed, I am confident that I will be able to provide this information much more promptly in future Sessions.

I am copying this letter to the Shadow Leader of the House for his information.

February 2011


STATISTICS ON HOUSE OF COMMONS WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY

QUESTIONS FOR THE 2009-10 SESSION

MEMORANDUM FROM THE LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS TO THE PROCEDURE COMMITTEE – FEBRUARY 2011

In its third report of the 2008-09 session, the Procedure Committee addressed the time Government Departments take to answer both Named Day and Ordinary Written Parliamentary Questions.  The Committee made the following recommendation:

"We recommend that departments be required to provide the Procedure Committee with sessional statistics in a standard format on the time taken to respond to WPQs, accompanied by an explanatory memorandum setting out any factors affecting their performance. These statistics should also record when holding answers have been given. This would allow departments to be compared and trends to be identified, without compromising the quality of answers to individual questions. These statistics should indicate the number of WPQs answered by the department throughout the session, and show the proportion and number of questions answered within particular periods of time. We intend to evaluate such statistics and report on departmental performance as necessary. As with data on unsatisfactory answers, this information on departmental performance will be sent to the relevant departmental select committees to inform their own scrutiny of departments. (Paragraph 100)"

In responding to that recommendation, my predeccessor as Leader of the House of Commons made the following commitment: 

"The Government accepts this recommendation, with effect from the current Session of Parliament. In the Government’s view, explanatory memoranda should address general factors which have an overall effect on a department’s performance, such as a very large volume of questions being tabled on the same subject, rather than giving reasons for each individual delay."

This memorandum sets out the Parliamentary Question performance of Government Departments for the 2009-10 session (Annex A). It does not include information relating to the Parliamentary Question performance of non-Government bodies that are subject to Written Parliamentary Questions (such as the Church Commissioners, the House of Commons Commission etc).

Information relating to the timeliness of Ordinary Written Parliamentary Questions is, in the case of most Departments, calculated on the basis of guidance issued by the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons in 2009 in ‘The Guide to Parliamentary Work’, paragraph 7.25:

Departments should endeavour to respond to questions for ordinary written ‘within a working week of tabling’. In practice this is taken to mean within five sitting days (including non-sitting Fridays) of a question's publication on the blue notice paper (with day of publication on the blue notice paper being day 1). Where a question falls for answer on a non-sitting Friday then the fifth sitting day for these purposes is taken as the next sitting day.

Where departments have calculated a "working week" using a different method, this is specified in the annex alongside that Department’s statistics.

A number of Government Departments highlighted the volume of questions and the pressures on drafting officials by a large number of questions being tabled on a particular subject in a short period of time as a source of delay. In her evidence to the Committee during the 2009-10 session, my predecessor as Leader of the House argued that the pressures caused by the volume of Parliamentary Questions cannot be addressed simply by Government providing more resources. There will always be bottlenecks in the system in the event of large numbers of questions because the Parliamentary Question process necessarily involves clearance at a senior level, in order to guarantee the quality of the material that is presented to Ministers, and for Ministers to give the final approval in order to protect the principle of Ministerial accountability to Parliament. Large numbers of questions at a given time therefore inevitably impact upon a Department’s ability to provide answers quickly.

A number of Departments also cited "Round Robin" questions as a particular area where there had been delays in answering Parliamentary Questions. This was primarily due to the need to compile information from a variety of sources and to ensure that answers across Government were consistent and presented information in a comparable form. There is anecdotal evidence that the performance of smaller Departments may be more heavily influenced by the proportion of Round Robin questions that they receive. The issue of Round Robin questions was considered during the Procedure Committee’s inquiry into Written Parliamentary Questions, with consideration given to how the Table Office might help to advise Members of those Departments to whom specific questions would not be relevant.

Conclusion

The inquiry by the Procedure Committee during the last Parliament highlighted that the volume of Parliamentary Questions has increased a great deal in recent years. A central issue affecting Departmental Parliamentary Question performance has therefore been, and indeed continues to be, the volume of questions tabled by members and the inevitable bottleneck of Departmental resources in arranging for answers. The Government is keen to continue to work with the House, and in particular the Procedure Committee, in order to address the concerns that have been previously articulated by members and to consider ways to modernise the processes followed when answering PQs in order to increase efficiency. In particular, the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons will continue to work with other Departments in order to spread best practice, paying particular attention to the Procedure Committee’s exercise in monitoring unsatisfactory and late answers to Parliamentary Questions.

Leader of the House of Commons

February 2011

ANNEX A

Department:

Attorney General’s Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department [1]

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days) [1]

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

132

107

16

9

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department [1]

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given [1]

Not answered

21

14

7

0

Department:

Business, Innovation and Skills

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1134

497

469

158

10

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

308

205

102

1

The figures have been drawn from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Parliamentary Question database, which, as with any large scale recording system, is subject to possible errors with data entry and processing.

The Department continues to monitor its performance in answering Parliamentary Questions. During the current session, for the first five months, 74% of ordinary questions were answered within 5 sitting days and 75% of Named Day Parliamentary Questions received a substantive reply on the date requested.

In addition to the 10 ordinary questions which did not receive a reply approximately another 10 PQs received a "prorogation" response.

Department:

Cabinet Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

870

653

182*

35

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

107

87

19

1

* Cabinet Office systems can only provide data on whether questions were answered within the specified deadline; it is not possible to collate by how many days answers missed the deadline.

During the 2009-10 session, Cabinet Office systems calculated the working week deadline as falling 5 sitting days from the due for answer date. In the current session the deadline is calculated as five sitting days (including non-sitting Fridays) of a question's publication on the blue notice paper (with day of publication on the blue notice paper being day 1). Where a question falls for answer on a non-sitting Friday then the fifth sitting day for these purposes is taken as the next sitting day. (Paragraph 7.25, Parliamentary Questions section, Guide to Parliamentary Work.’)

Department:

Department for Children, Schools and Families

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS*

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

437*

43

170

224

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

368

123

245

0

*The Department devised and implemented new IT systems to manage PQs during the session. The rollout of this new system was in February 2010. The previous IT system could not produce this statistical information therefore the information for Ordinary Written Questions is for part of the session only - from February onwards. Named Day PQ statistics are for the full session.

Department:

Communities and Local Government

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1,920

1,700*

175

36

9

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

371

305

63

3

* Within five sittings days of a question’s date for answer.

Department:

Culture, Media and Sport

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

723

596

127

N/A

N/A

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

194

121

73

N/A

Department:

Ministry of Defence

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 6 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1059

641

276

139

3

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

366

226

140

0

Two PQs went unanswered because final replies could not be agreed and a third because detailed information could not be collated before prorogation.

Department:

Energy and Climate Change

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

762

406

297

59

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

163

99

64

0

Department:

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

712

467

140

105

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

222

177

45

0

Department:

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

955

804

119

32

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

249

204

45

0

Department:

Health

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1921

1756

123

42

None

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

455

448

7

None

Department:

Home Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1600

846

409

345

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

542

197

344

1

The Home Office’s electronic PQ management system is limited in its capacity to produce performance statistics. The accuracy of the above statistics is reliant on the consistent use of the system by its users.

Department:

Department for International Development

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

471

465

2

4

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

102

96

6

0

All named day PQs answered late were answered substantially on the next available sitting day, with the exception of 1 PQ that was a round robin question tabled to all Government Departments.

Department:

Ministry of Justice

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1102

849

199

54

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

352

280

72

0

These figures are based on the answer being provided within five sitting days (excluding non-sitting Fridays) of a question's publication on the blue notice paper (with day of publication on the blue notice paper being day one).

The figures have been drawn from the Ministry of Justice Parliamentary Question database, which, as with any large scale recording system, is subject to possible errors with data entry and processing.

Department:

Leader of the House of Commons

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

25

25

0

0

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

11

11

0

0

Department:

Northern Ireland Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

264

210*

50

4

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

35

27

8

0

*This figure includes 2 PQs given Prorogation Answers.

Department:

Prime Minister’s Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

82

73

4

4

1

Non-sitting Fridays were not included in the calculation of the ‘working week’ for the 2009-10 stats. Day 1 was taken as the date the PQ was tabled (not when it appeared in the blues)

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

30

24

5

1

Unanswered PQs were due to prorogation.

Department:

Scotland Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

135

103

28

4

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

15

15

0

0

Department:

Department for Transport

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1001

828

89

84

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

418

347

71

0

Department:

HM Treasury

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

1,259

845

318

96

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

311

200

111

0

Department:

Wales Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

186

168

14

4

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

29

27

2

0

Department:

Government Equalities Office

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

148

61

70*

17

*This information was not recorded by the Cabinet Office Parliamentary Question database. Cabinet Office systems can only provide data on whether questions were answered within the specified deadline; it is not possible to collate by how many days answers missed the deadline

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

16

3

12

1

Department:

Department for Work and Pensions

Session:

2009-10

ORDINARY WRITTEN PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered substantively within a working week (5 sitting days)

Number answered substantively between 5 and 10 sitting days

Number answered substantively later than 10 sitting days

Not answered

965

286

362

317

0

NAMED DAY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Total number tabled for answer by department

Number answered on Named Day

Number answered after Named day with a Holding answer given

Not answered

392

111

281

0


[1] Taking into consideration any transfers.

[1]

[1] Within five sitting days (including non-sitting Fridays) of a question's publication on the blue notice paper (with day of publication on the blue notice paper being day 1). Where a question falls for answer on a non-sitting Friday then the fifth sitting day for these purposes is taken as the next sitting day. (Paragraph 7.25, Parliamentary Questions section, Guide to Parliamentary Work.’)

[1]

[1] Taking into consideration any transfers.

[1] If it is not possible to answer a named-day written Question in full on the specified date a holding reply must be given.(Paragraph 7.42, Parliamentary Questions section, Guide to Parliamentary Work.’)

[1]