DHSC Answers to Written Questions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 19th November 2020.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:32 am, 19th November 2020

I was going to say that, as ever, I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tone, right up to almost the end of his remarks. On his substantive points, when it comes to accountability to this House, he will know from our regular double acts at this Dispatch Box and in Committee that I and fellow Ministers do not shy away from our accountability to this House in all its forms.

On volume, as I have said, during the same period last year we received 4,000 written questions; this year, the figure has been 8,000. That cannot be addressed by increasing administrative resource alone, because the technical expertise of policy experts is required to provide accuracy in the answers that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members seek. The same policy officials are dealing, day to day, with all aspects of the response to the pandemic.

The hon. Gentleman talked about accuracy, and he is right about the importance of accurate and timely answers. Given that we have answered 8,000 parliamentary questions between March and, I believe, October, some may, sadly, not live up to his expectations. I know that he will hold me and other Ministers to account when that is the case.

In answer to another of the hon. Gentleman’s question, yes, I and other Ministers read not only the answers and the questions, but the background to those questions. If we do not, we will quite rightly end up at the Dispatch Box, being asked those questions again and being challenged on the Floor of the House. In view of that, and in view of our obligations to the public and under the ministerial code, it is absolutely right that we take the answering of written parliamentary questions very seriously.

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point about NHS Digital and the publication of data and so on, I am happy to take that away and look at it for him.