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Response rates to written parliamentary questions a mixed bag

15 December 2017

The Procedure Committee's report into written Parliamentary questions in the 2016–17 session of Parliament has shown improvements in the response rate of some Government departments, but cause for concern in others.

Number of departments with disappointing performance levels

The overall response rate has been maintained at a high standard, with, on average, over nine out of ten questions for ordinary written answer responded to within five sitting days.

Regrettably a number of departments had disappointing performance levels—in particular the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Education, and the Ministry of Justice.

The Committee plans to monitor each Department's response rate in the current session and will not hesitate to challenge Ministers if performance does not improve.

Improvements for DCMS and Home Office

The committee warmly welcomes the fact that the performance of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has improved significantly from 2015–16. Figures for timely answers to ordinary written and named day questions increased from 67.6% to 90.9% and from 60.2% to 93.3%.

There have also been welcome improvements in the response rate of the Home Office, although these have been offset by shortcomings in the department's IT systems. The Committee looks forward to further improvements.

To ensure that the quality of answers is of an acceptable standard, as well as the timeliness of responses, the Committee will soon be launching an exercise to monitor the quality of answers, and will continue with its scheme to afford Members a means of complaining about inadequate answers.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Procedure Committee, Mr Charles Walker OBE MP, commented:

"The role of Parliamentary questions in the scrutiny of Government policies cannot be overstated, so it is disappointing that some departments continue to provide an unacceptably high number of late answers.

If these departments do not improve this session then our committee looks forward to the Ministers responsible providing an explanation and presenting a clear action plan to ensure improvements.

I am encouraged to see that some departments that have previously had poor response rates have improved their performance in response to the Committee's scrutiny.

While the timeliness of responses is of importance to Members, the quality of those answers is just as vital. The Committee will be launching an exercise to monitor the quality of answers provided by departments, and we look forward to receiving the views of Members from across the House."

Further information

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