Answers and corrections
22.23Answers to questions for written answer are published in the online Questions and Answers system once they have been emailed to the relevant Member by the Ministers to whom they were addressed. Oral questions which are not reached or where the Member was not present to ask them are treated as questions for written answer that day.1 Questions are answered in writing at 9.30 am or, in the case of oral questions not reached, at the end of Question Time.2
Ministers from time to time provide a holding answer if it has not been possible to give a substantive answer by the due date, although the Speaker has stressed the importance of substantive answers being given in a timely manner.3 On occasions when departments are unable to answer questions substantively before prorogation, Ministers provide a standard answer—known as prorogation answers—worded as follows: ‘It has not proved possible to respond to the [Right] hon Member in the time available before Prorogation’.4
The Speaker has deprecated long statements being circulated as answers to questions.5 The Speaker has also ruled that replies should be helpful and clear and not simply refer to material on an official website.6 In the event of a discrepancy between the texts of the answers sent to the Member and that which is published, the text sent to the Member is considered to be the authentic reply; any alteration must be made orally in the House by the Minister.7
If a Member, having given notices of questions, ceases to be a Member of the House or becomes a member of the Government, those notices are removed and any answers to their questions received are not published.8
When factual mistakes are discovered in an answer to a question, Ministers may submit written ministerial corrections for publication in the House papers and online. Such corrections are required to be free-standing and should not be used to provide new information, however closely related to the original proceeding. Nor should they be used to rehearse the arguments which may have given rise to the original erroneous answer.9 When Ministers wish to make a correction in terms which would not comply with the criteria relating to written ministerial corrections, they may do so by means of a written statement (see para 19.21 ).10 The Speaker has reminded the House that the Government's own Ministerial Code requires Ministers to correct any inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity.11
- 1. But a question which has been answered together with another question cannot be postponed (HC Deb (1955–56) 554, c 1238).
- 2. For this reason, it is not proper to release an answer before those times: HC Deb (1981–82) 15, c 625; ibid (1984–85) 80, c 306; ibid (1989–90) 167, c 1055. There can be an elapse of a few hours before the Answer emailed to a Member is accessible in the Question and Answers system.
- 3. HC Deb (23 February 2010) 506, c 164; ibid (9 March 2010) 507, c 155.
- 4. HC Deb (21 July 2004) 424, cc 35–36WS.
- 5. HC Deb (1958–59) 595, cc 34–35.
- 6. HC Deb (4 November 2010) 517, c 1059.
- 7. HC Deb (1956–57) 563, cc 853–62; ibid (1984–85) 78, cc 594–95, 655–56.
- 8. HC Deb (1912–13) 42, c 2552.
- 9. Second Report from the Procedure Committee, HC 541 (2006–07). This procedure has replaced the previous mechanism of correcting mistakes in an earlier answer by providing a ‘pursuant’ answer.
- 10. See for example HC Deb (24 October 2006) 450, cc 84–85WS.
- 11. See Cabinet Office, Ministerial Code, January 2018, para 1.3c; also Resolution on Ministerial Accountability to Parliament, CJ (1996–97) 328 and para 11.40.