Guidance to Officials on Drafting Answers
to Parliamentary Questions
1. Never forget Ministers' obligations to
Parliament which are set out in the Ministerial Code:
"It is of paramount importance that Ministers
give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting
any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who
knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation
to the Prime Minister.
Ministers should be as open as possible with
Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only
when disclosure would not be in the public interest, which should
be decided in accordance with the relevant statutes and the Government's
Code of Practice on Access to Government Information."
2. It is a civil servant's responsibility
to Ministers to help them fulfil those obligations. It is the
Minister's right and responsiblity to decide how to do so. Ministers
want to explain and present Government policy and actions in a
positive light. They will rightly expect a draft answer that does
full justice to the Government's position.
3. Approach every question predisposed to
give relevent information fully, as concisely as possible and
in accordance with guidance on disproportionate cost. If there
appears to be a conflict between the requirement to be as open
as possible and the requirement to protect information whose disclosure
would not be in the public interest, you should check to see whether
it should be omitted in accordance with statute (which takes precedence)
or the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information,
about which you should consult your departmental openness
liaison officer if necessary.
4. Where information is being refused on
the grounds of disproportionate cost, there should be a presumption
that any of the requested information which is readily available
should be provided.
5. Do not omit information sought merely
because disclosure could lead to political embarrassment or administration
6. Where there is a particularly fine balance
between openness and non-disclosure, and when the draft answer
takes the latter course, this should be explicitly drawn to the
Minister's attention. Similarly, if it is proposed to reveal information
of a sort which is not normally disclosed, this should be explicitly
drawn to Ministers' attention.
7. If you conclude that material information
must be withheld and the PQ cannot be fully answered as a result,
draft an answer which makes this clear and which explains the
reasons in equivalent terms to those in the Code of Practice,
or because of disproportionate cost or the information not being
available. Take care to avoid draft answers which are literally
true but likely to give rise to misleading inferences.