On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter relating to ministerial accountability to Members of the House. I recently sent a letter, at the request of a constituent, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose office then notified me that it was being forwarded to the Department for Education for reply. Today, I received a reply from the Department—from the permanent secretary. This is the second time I have received such a letter. The matter about which I wrote was politically controversial, so the permanent secretary has, whether he wished it or not, been drawn into party political controversy by expounding and defending Government policy. This clearly is not satisfactory, Mr Speaker, and I shall be grateful for your guidance on how we should deal with such a situation and prevent its recurrence.
The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House for 40 years—I think he is in his 41st year of service in the House—so he will know that how Ministers respond to questions is principally a matter for them. However, I certainly think the point that he has raised warrants a ministerial response. For my own part, I will stick my neck out and observe that when a Member of Parliament tables a question, the Member of Parliament wants a reply from a Minister, not from an official. It might even be thought a little unwise to respond to the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, in the way that was done, but I am sure the Secretary of State will have something to say about the matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity, as I am determined at all times to ensure that my Department responds promptly and fully to questions from colleagues across the House, and Sir Gerald Kaufman is a particularly assiduous correspondent on behalf of his constituents. I have had the opportunity in the past to reply personally.
On some occasions it is appropriate when responding to parliamentary questions and to correspondence to enlist the support of those who do such a good job in the civil service and in arm’s length bodies. It is always a matter for ministerial discretion, but if any Member of the House is unhappy with any reply that they have received, I would be delighted if they would write again to me. In almost every case where a parliamentary question has been answered or parliamentary correspondence has been received, there has been a note from a Minister stressing that if the reply and the information contained therein is unsatisfactory, Ministers would of course be delighted, as I am at any time, to provide further information.
I am also delighted and grateful to you, Mr Speaker, to be able to say that the backlog of correspondence that we inherited has now, thanks to the generous and energetic work of officials in the Department, been cleared. I hope that in the future I will be able to answer all questions from all parts of the House as promptly as Members deserve.