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 responsibility 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 relevant
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
5. Do not omit information sought merely because
disclosure could lead to political embarrassment or administrative
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.