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
Department of Culture, Media & Sport
Northern Ireland Office
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…