HC Deb 07 December 1971 vol 827 cc1118-9
Q3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Prime Minister what is the practice of his Administration concerning Ministers' replies to letters from hon. Members.

The Prime Minister

There has been no change in our practice, which is to consider such letters carefully and to reply as quickly as possible.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is quite common for hon. Members to wait four or five weeks for a reply? I recently had to wait for two months, in spite of sending several reminders. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a gross discourtesy to the House and that the image which the Government like to project of themselves as slick, efficient businessmen is completely false? Will he intervene personally to try to expedite replies?

The Prime Minister

I will consider any examples brought to my notice. It is the intention of every Government Department to answer Members' letters as soon as they can. I believe that there are three instances concerning the hon. Gentleman. In his speech on employment he said that he had written to me and had not had a reply. He has since been courteous enough to send me a letter saying that that had been a misunderstanding, and that he had not written to me about the matter. The second case involved Peterlee, and it was necessary to discuss the matter with the Peterlee Development Corporation. The third involved a constitutent who was at sea at the relevant time, and it was necessary to await his return to deal with the matter. In both cases the Department concerned apologised for the delay. If the hon. Gentleman has any other cases, I will gladly look into them.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Prime Minister please look at this in a general sense? Hon. Members on both sides of the House write to Departments asking for verification of certain points, and it takes three or four weeks for an answer to come back, usually confirming what the hon. Member knows to be the case but on which he likes to get Ministerial confirmation, although that could be done almost by return of post. This is very annoying, because hon. Members want to get the official reply from the Department to send to their constituents.

The Prime Minister

When the hon. Gentleman, or any other hon. Member, writes to a Department about any matter on which he wants confirmation of facts, it is necessary for the officers in the Department to investigate the facts and either to confirm or to deny them. No Department can be expected to do less. During my short period of office a large number of replies have been sent by me to the hon. Gentleman but he refuses to take notice of any of them.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the general experience of hon. Members is far from that described by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), and that there has been a significant improvement since this Government took office? The trouble is that hon. Gentlemen opposite often forget to send the letters they write.

The Prime Minister

Without wishing to go into a comparison between the procedures under the different Administrations—because there has been no change in procedure—I think that most hon. Members will agree that, considering the very large amount of correspondence between hon. Members and Departments, the number of occasions on which there are slip-ups or complaints is remarkably small.

Forward to