Ministers to be shamed over MPs' questions

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Ministers will be criticised next week for withholding answers to parliamentary questions and failing to give MPs valid reasons for refusing to answer.

Ministers will be criticised next week for withholding answers to parliamentary questions and failing to give MPs valid reasons for refusing to answer.

Government departments, which refuse to answer questions and have a huge backlog of unanswered inquiries, are to be "named and shamed" by a committee of MPs.

A report by the Public Administration Select Committee will point out the importance of departments answering questions straightforwardly after The Independent revealed that the Department of Work and Pensions had instructed civil servants to check if an MP was "friendly" before replying.

The committee will deliver a scathing report which will show that some departments, including the Department of Health, have failed to meet their targets for answering parliamentary questions and replying to letters from MPs.

It will criticise others, including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, for failing to cite the exemptions which can justify refusing to reply. One source close to the committee said: "The problem is they don't give a full explanation to the member about why they have refused to answer.

"Many backlogs are not getting better. They do not have the resources to put into this."

But the committee will also criticise the most inquisitive MPs who attack the Government for failing to answer their questions. The committee is expected to refer to the number of questions asked by John Bercow, Labour MP for Buckingham, whose questions have cost the Government £500,000 to reply.

It will recommend that MPs should have access to formal complaint procedures about ministers who do not cooperate. But if the Government continues to fail to obey the rules a tougher independent appeals procedure could be introduced.

Last month the Government was forced to scrap the practice by which civil servants investigate the background and motives of MPs before their parliamentary questions are answered. Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, ordered his department's guidance on answering written questions to be withdrawn within days of taking up his job after protests from MPs. Similar techniques have been used across Whitehall, raising fears of the increasing politicisation of the civil service.

Some departments ask civil servants who produce briefings for Tony Blair before Prime Minister's Questions to include "supportive comments from members of the Opposition" and "killer facts" such as comparisons with "the previous administration".

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