HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc369-70W
Mr. Burns

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the current average cost of preparing answers to written and oral parliamentary questions; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maples

Following a survey conducted by Treasury in 1991 and spanning six Departments, the average cost of preparing an answer to a parliamentary question—PQ—is assessed as £87 for a written PQ and £202 for an oral PQ. These figures represent costs within the civil service only; the costs of Ministers and their offices are not included. These figures are not directly comparable with the costs increased by indexation from the 1972 survey which were previously published at £64 and £106 for written and oral PQs respectively, because the cost of staff accommodation was previously excluded. Accommodation costs account for around 15 per cent. of these 1991 costs. The substantial rise in the average cost of oral PQs mainly reflects the restriction in numbers introduced from the start of the 1990–91 Session. These are down from around 24,000 per Session to around 6,000 and the costs per unit reflect the fact that costs are no longer spread over the former large numbers. On the one hand there is a substantial saving in aggregate costs because replies are no longer given to the very large number of oral questions which were formerly tabled, not reached and answered as written PQs. On the other hand, there is no reduction in the briefing required for oral questions which are likely to be reached and full briefing for supplementary questions is still needed for these. However, the figures show a substantial cost saving overall because the numbers have fallen by 75 per cent. whereas costs per unit are less than twice their previously published level. In the light of the new figures, consideration is being given to the advisory level above which written PQs may fall into the disproportionate cost category and an announcement will be made in due course.