§ Lord Jopling
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is the average length of time over the last month for Answers to be given to Written Questions from the time the Questions were put down, comparing the House of Lords and the House of Commons; and [HL1404]
What since May 1997 is the longest period between the tabling of a Question for Written Answer and its being answered by a Minister, giving the relevant dates; and [HL1681]
Whether the time within which Questions for Written Answer are to be answered is the same for the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and if not, what is the difference and justification; and [HL1682]
What instructions have been issued to civil servants with regard to the urgency given to answering Questions for Written Answer tabled by members of the House of Lords compared with members of the House of Commons. [HL1683]
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
Information on the average length of time for Answers to be given to Written Questions, comparing the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is not available, which I regret. My office has commissioned a new computer database to help track and monitor performance on Answers to Written Questions tabled by noble Lords. The database should be in operation early in the new year and will help my office to chase progress on late Answers and provide more helpful replies in future to the Questions raised on this occasion.69WA
On the question of the longest period between the tabling of a Question for Written Answer and it being answered, the Minute Room has advised that a Question tabled by Lord Waverley in 1998 took eight months for the Government to issue a reply.
On the issue of timescales for answering Questions in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the systems are of course very different. Written Questions in the House of Commons are tabled to individual Ministers for answer either on a Named Day or Ordinary Written where the aim is to reply within seven days. In the House of Lords, Questions are tabled to "Her Majesty's Government" and are expected to be answered within 14 days. The reason for the longer deadline in the House of Lords is to reflect the fact that Questions can be more wide ranging in the Lords as they are tabled to Her Majesty's Government rather than a specific Minister.
The time taken to reply to Parliamentary Questions is an issue that concerns me and my ministerial colleagues. I have reminded colleagues that Questions in the House of Lords are expected to be answered within a fortnight. In addition, Sir Richard Wilson has written to departments reminding them of the need for timely and helpful answers to Parliamentary Questions in both Houses.