HC Deb 11 July 1997 vol 297 cc1177-8 9.34 am
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier this week, I tabled some written questions to the Department of Trade and Industry for reply on a named day. They included a question that was very pertinent to today's debate—it asked the Department to define its meaning of the information society.

Together with 14 other questions tabled at that time, I received answers, on the Members' board, at the Division last night. Those answers were either not substantive or merely contained the words: I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible. I am sorry to have to raise this matter as a point of order again, but, as you know, I gave you notification yesterday of a point of order that covered the same issue—the DTI not replying to questions tabled by Members in all honesty and searching for an answer, in particular one relevant to today's proceedings.

The Library has told me that, since the general election, the DTI has answered a mere 46 written questions in full, whereas the Treasury, for example, has managed to answer 88. I look to you, Madam Speaker, as the defender of the rights of non-Ministers, to call the DTI to account. I sincerely fear that the rights of Members of Parliament are being infringed by the arrogant way in which Departments are treating named-day questions.

The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) for the fact that she has not received replies to her questions. My intention is that questions should be answered as quickly as possible. Indeed, I recall the question she tabled on the information society and I know that I have already signed the reply to it. I hope that she will get it speedily. I accept that she has not received it in time for today's debate and I apologise to her for that.

I signed a substantial number of the answers to the 44 written questions to which the hon. Lady referred. The Department has received a large number of wide-ranging and detailed questions. I undertake to go back to the Department and ensure that questions are answered as openly and as promptly as possible.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) appreciates the Minister's response. Perhaps, during the debate, inquiries could be made about why she has not received a reply to her questions.

Mrs. Gillan

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I cannot allow a debate on the issue, but I will allow the hon. Lady to respond to the Minister.

Mrs. Gillan

I thank the Minister for his generous response. Obviously, there has been some breakdown. However, I reiterate that many of the questions that were not answered by the named day were simple questions on matters of fact. That is what is so alarming about what is happening in the DTI at the moment.

Madam Speaker

As I explained yesterday, the Department has complied with the Standing Order. However, I hope that urgent inquiries will be made into the matter.

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