Avoiding the question…

Bit of a Wat Tyler question for you today…

Q. What costs the taxpayer in excess of £60,000 a year and provides nothing in return?

A. Parliamentary questions to which the only answer given is that the information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Seriously, having done a bit more digging in the Hansard archives I’ve now come up with nearly 2,600 questions asked over the last five years, where the cost of providing an answer was deemed too expensive by the goverment – and written questions cost the taxpayer £134 a time.

Okay, so its not all the govenrment’s fault – many questions posed by MPs are badly framed or ask for unrealistic amounts of detailed information, but in doing the research it was interesting to note that from the time that the practice of blocking questions on cost grounds, as permitted under FOIA, was first recorded in 2001 – and not 2004 as I first thought – there have been several occasions on which MPs have complained that information they had been able to obtain by written question before FOIA was introduced, was no no longer available on cost grounds.

Still, having done the scut work, I thought I’d have a little bit of fun with it and pose a bit of competititon – no prize’s sadly, just a bit of kudos for your knowledge of the workings of parliament to whoever comes closest to the right answer.

What I’d like you do is is every simply, from the list of govenrment departments below, choose the ten departments you think have used the phrase ‘could only provided at disproportionate cost’ in response to parliamentary questions on the greatest number of occasions and rank them in order from the most frequent users of that phrase to the least frequent.

So, for example, if you think the Northern Ireland Office are the number one department for blocking questions on cost ground, put them first on your list… and so on down the list until you’ve chosen ten out of the twenty departments on offer.

And your list of departments, in no particular order are…

Department for Constutional Affairs/Lord Chancellor’s Department

Department of Health

Department for Education and Science

Department for Work and Pensions

Home Office

Department of Culture, Media & Sport

Northern Ireland Office

Scottish Office

Welsh Office

The Treasury

The Privy Council

Leader of the House of Commons

Department for the Environment and Rural Affiairs

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (includes the old DLTR and the new DCLG)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Ministry of Defence

Department of Transport

Department for International Development

Office of the Prime Minister/Cabinet Office

Department of Trade and Industry.

For a bit of extra kudos – and without looking it up – one MP has spoken the magic words ‘disproportionate cost’ on no less than 234 occasions in the last five years… see if you can name him and the government post he currently holds…

Answers before the weekend…

7 thoughts on “Avoiding the question…

  1. This is purely guesswork, of course…

    1. The Treasury
    2. Office of the Prime Minister/Cabinet Office
    3. Ministry of Defence
    4. Home Office
    5. Department for International Development
    6. Department for Work and Pensions
    7. Department for the Environment and Rural Affiairs
    8. Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (includes the old DLTR and the new DCLG)
    9. Department of Health
    10. Department for Constutional Affairs/Lord Chancellor

  2. I would put Home Office at 1 or 2, with Treasury in whichever the HO isn’t.

    But as for individual? It’s normally juniors trotted out to utter such things, but no direct idea, so I’ll simply go for most useless failed junior, Ben Bradshaw, or possibly Miliband before he got his current promotion.

  3. Like DK, no real idea, just the gut to go by:
    1.Home Office
    2.MOD
    3.DCA
    4.Office of Prime Minister
    5.Treasury
    6.Department for International Development
    7.Office of Deputy Prime Minister
    8.DEFRA
    9.DWP
    10.FCO

    As for individual, its got to be a cockmonkey. So my money is in on either:
    1.Tony McNumpty
    2.Andy Burnham
    3.Patricia Hewitt

  4. My hunch is that a lot of this is to do with either (a) contracts with the private sector (b) Iraq, so…

    1. Department of Health
    2. Ministry of Defence
    3. Home Office
    4. Department for Constutional Affairs/Lord Chancellor

  5. Purely by number of requests? seems a bit unfair, I don’t see the Welsh office getting as many chances to refuse as the Home office…

  6. You have a point there Niels, although to be honest part of my interest in this lies in how people perceive the various departments in government, what they understand about how parliament actually works, and how that then might influence their response to the questions.

    Without doing the analysis I did I doubt very much that anyone will be right on the money but, without giving the game away, I can say that there is at least one of the smaller departments that punches a fair bit above it weight when it comes to not answering questions.

  7. 1. MOD
    2. Environment
    3. Education
    4. Treasury
    5. DFID
    6. Home
    7. Work and Pensions
    8. Health
    9. Culture, Media and Sport
    10. DCA

    As for the person, no idea. As I reckon the MOD are the most shifty, it should probably be Adam Ingram.

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