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2004 November Report of the Auditor General of Canada

November 2004 Report—Chapter 7

Exhibit 7.9—Process for responding to written order paper questions in Canada and the United Kingdom—A comparison

Process

Canada

United Kingdom

Compliance with parliamentary procedures

The Clerk of the House ensures that questions are placed on the Notice Paper, according to the rules of the House.

The Table Office receives questions. The clerks advise on how to have them conform with the rules of the House.

Questions are assigned to entities

The Office of the Co-ordinator of Parliamentary Returns in Privy Council Office assigns questions to entities.

The Table Office in Parliament assigns the questions (but questions may be transferred by ministers from one government department to another).

Guidance is given to entities

The Privy Council Office offers clarifications if a department asks.

The Cabinet Office offers advice to departments on multi-departmental questions, to be used at the department's discretion.

Certification of responses and scope of work

Since the reforms, departments send a statement of completeness describing work done to the Privy Council Office. A senior official signs the statement certifying that it is complete and accurate.

The Minister or parliamentary secretary must sign responses including nil responses.

Senior official, in charge of program or activity, is responsible for completeness and accuracy of responses. Responses often include a good description of work performed to respond to question.

Responses tabled

Parliamentary secretary of the Leader of the Government in the House tables responses in the House.

Responses are delivered to members of Parliament with copies to the Library, the Table Office, the Official Report, and the Press Gallery. They are printed within days in Hansard.

No replies

A department, agency, or Crown corporation can indicate that it cannot answer the question.

Departments can decline to respond to information, citing an exemption in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information or disproportionate cost.

Recourse if members of Parliament are not satisfied

If a questions remains unanswered at the end of 45 days (if requested) it is referred to the relevant standing committee. The subject matter can also be raised in the adjournment proceedings.

No provisions for Speaker to review responses. However, members of Parliament can raise questions of privilege regarding accuracy of responses. Speaker has ruled that it is not his role to assess accuracy of answer.

Members of Parliament can raise concerns in the House: point of order, adjournment debate, or Early Day Motion. They can contact the Table Office, Procedure Committee, or the Public Administration Select Committee, which reports on Ministerial Accountability and Parliamentary Questions. Some members have complained to the Parliament Ombudsman after being refused an answer by reference to an exemption in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Procedures for incorrect answer

It is possible to supply supplementary replies to questions already answered.

If a written answer contains factually inaccurate information, ministers may send a second written answer "pursuant" to the first, correcting the original answer. Departments must clear such pursuant answers with the Table Office in advance.

Limit of questions that a member of Parliament can ask

Four questions on the Order Paper at any given time.

No limit.

Time limit to respond

Members of Parliament can request a response in 45 calendar days.

"Named Day" questions must receive response by the date specified by the member of Parliament. There is no parliamentary rule stating that ordinary questions have to be answered by a certain date. The convention is that responses can be expected in about a working week.

Number of order paper questions

1st Session (29 January 2001 to 16 September 2002): 192 questions

2nd Session (30 September 2002 to 12 November 2003): 296 questions

3rd Session (2 February 2004 to 23 May 2004): 98 questions

6 December 2000 to 11 May 2001: 16,417 questions

13 June 2001 to 7 November 2002: 72,905 questions

13 November 2002 to 20 November 2003: 55,436 questions