Back in May I reported the failure of the Home Office to answer a simple question tabled in the House of Lords for written answer:

“what meetings have been held by Home Office Ministers with (a) the Mayor of London or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and with (b) the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police since May 2010?”

The answer when it came after eight weeks was grossly inadequate:

“Since May 2010 Home Office ministers have met regularly with (a) the Mayor of London or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and with (b) the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to discuss poliicing matters and policing in London.”

I tried again with:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government (further to written answer HL7906) to state on what dates meetings were held by Home Office Ministers with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and with (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police since May 2010.”

Another eight weeks passed and a few days ago I finally got the following:

“Since May 2010 Home Office ministers have met with the Mayor of London or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, regularly throughout 2010 or 2011.”

This is the sort of answer that gives non-answers a bad name.  A request under the Freedom of Information Act would, I am sure, have elicited a fuller answer and the statutory timetable requires an answer within a month.

I have today tabled the following:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer s given by Baroness Browning on 17 May (HL7906) and on 11 July (HL9332),:

    1. What were the reasons for the delay in responding to the two questions tabled?
    2. Will they now place in the Library of the House a schedule of all meetings held by Home Office Ministers with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, showing the dates of all such meetings, their duration and a list of all those present?”

And for good measure I have written to the Leader of the House of Lords as follows:

“Dear Lord Strathclyde

QUALITY OF ANSWERS TO PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

I am writing to express my concern about the quality of answers given to Parliamentary Questions.  There have been a number of occasions in the past when I have felt that the response to Written Questions I have submitted has been woefully inadequate.

Most recently I would refer you to HL7906 and HL9332 (copies attached). Both questions took an inordinately long time to receive a response.

 I hope you will agree that the first answer failed adequately to address the question asked.  I then tabled a more specific question, referring to the previous answer, and received an equally uninformative response. 

I am certain that, if I had submitted the question to the Home Office by writing as a member of the public using the Freedom of Information Act, I would have received a fuller answer.  (I am pursuing this separately with a further question.)

In your view, is it acceptable for such poor answers to be given?  Is it not contemptuous of the House for less information to be provided in response to a Parliamentary Question than would be provided under the Freedom of Information Act?

I look forward to your reply.  I am copying this letter to the Lord Speaker, the Lord Speaker Elect, the Leader of the Opposition, the Government Chief Whip, the Opposition Chief Whip and Baroness Browning.

Yours sincerely,

 

TOBY HARRIS

(Lord Harris of Haringey)”

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