Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister’s Question Time from 13th June 1991.
Mr. Redmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the expenditure covered by his Department’s hospitality fund for the financial years (a) 1989-90, (b) 1990-91 and (c) 1991-92 to date.
The Prime Minister : This information is not available in the form requested. The cost of official hospitality met by my office during 1989-90 was £27,427 ; it is estimated to be £20,904 and in 1991-92 to date, it is £6,485.
Mr. Soames : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to improve the quality, substance and accuracy of economic and commercial statistics available to Her Majesty’s Government.
The Prime Minister : A comprehensive statement on the current state of official economic statistics was submitted by the Central Statistical Office to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee on Wednesday 24 October 1990–HC 671, Session 1989-90.
The memorandum gave details of an important package of measures to improve the reliability of economic data which the Central Statistical Office is now implementing. I announced this package to the House as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17 May 1990, Official Report, column 172. It is directed towards improving the quality of both the gross domestic product and the balance of payments estimates. In this context it has three major objectives:
(i) Reducing revisions to early estimates of both gross domestic product and the overseas current account by extending the range of quarterly sources;
(ii) Improving the accuracy and coherence of the measurement of gross domestic product through strengthening the weaker elements in the estimates;
(iii) Improving the accuracy and coherence of the financial accounts including the overseas or balance of payments accounts. For details of the measures being undertaken, in order to achieve these aims, I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) by the Economic Secretary on 13 May, Official Report, columns 19-21. Further and more detailed information appeared in an article, titled “Improving Economic Statistics–The Chancellor’s Initiative”, in the February 1991 edition of “Economic Trends” which is available in the House of Commons Library.
The Government attach great importance to the need for reliable economic statistics and will consider further measures to maintain and improve the quality of economic data as the need arises.
Mr. Redmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the full-time and part-time public appointments for which his Department was responsible for each of the past five years, together with the salary and the date when each appointment is due for renewal.
The Prime Minister : This information could be supplied only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Redmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the titles of the video recordings purchased by his Department during the financial year 1990-91 and 1991-92 to date.
The Prime Minister : No.
Mr. Onslow : To ask the Prime Minister what action Departments have taken in response to the report of the efficiency scrutiny on ministerial correspondence; and if he will make a statement.
The Prime Minister : The report of the efficiency scrutiny on ministerial correspondence was made available to Members of Parliament and others last December. The report, which provides recommendations of good practice, was accepted by the Government. Departments have reacted very positively to the scrutiny report. Each Department has produced an action plan to implement those recommendations which they have accepted, and which are not already departmental practice. Each Department has nominated a Minister for correspondence issues.
Every Department accepted a majority of the scrutiny team’s recommendations; overall 90 per cent. were accepted and none was generally rejected.
The report recognised that Members of Parliament always have the right to approach Ministers directly, but that a more efficient service could be achieved by decentralisation of correspondence on operational matters to agency chief executives and other discreet units or local offices. Departments have generally accepted these recommendations, and the most recent edition of the “List of Ministerial Responsibilities” has been extended to provide information on agency chief executives and other key addresses. The report identified the use of targets and monitoring of performance as important factors in improving the management of correspondence and all Departments agree with this. All Departments accept the recommendation that their own targets on correspondence should be published, and there has been widespread acceptance of the recommendation to send a prompt and informative interim reply where a departmental target will not be achieved. Departments also gave a strong support to the recommendations for monitoring annual publication of performance.
Departments are pursuing other recommendations, designed to improve the handling of correspondence, taking into account their differing functions and organisation.
In line with the normal procedures for an efficiency scrutiny, each Department will produce by July next year an implementation report to record the achievements in carrying through their action plan.
Minister for Ex-Service Men
Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will appoint a Minister with responsibility for ex-service men.
The Prime Minister [holding answer 12 June 1991] : No. It would simply add another tier of administration to the present system as one Department could clearly not have policy responsibility for all the matters of concern to ex-service men or their widows. Creating a new Department could lead only to unnecessary delay on inquiries since these would need to be referred to other Government Departments for consideration.
The Ministry of Defence is responsible for service pension matters, the Department of Health, through the NHS, for treatment of the disabilities of ex-service personnel and the Department of Social Security for war pension matters. The Department of Social Security administers the war pensioners’ welfare service through a countryside network of offices. The service offers war disablement pensioners and war widows help and advice on personal problems and liaise on their behalf as necessary with statutory and voluntary bodies. War pensions committees also play an important part locally in matters relating to the welfare of war pensioners.