It is obfuscation of the highest order designed to avoid rather than reveal, and shows the contempt with which the Executive hold the scrutinising capability of the Legislature.
Today's example comes from the Cabinet Office and Tessa Jowell who yesterday responded to the following question from Francis Maude thus,
Francis Maude: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office pursuant to the answer of 4 February 2010, Official Report, column 508W, on departmental official hospitality, on what date (a) Mr. Derek Draper, (b) Mr. Charlie Whelan and (c) Mr. Damian McBride last entered the Downing Street/Cabinet Office complex as a visitor.Simples huh? Wrong! What was that response on the 4th February and what was the question? Yep, that's right! A completely different question and an answer that makes n sense in relation to the new question. It's here,
Tessa Jowell: I refer the hon. Gentleman to my answer given on 4 February 2010, Official Report, column 877W.
Mr. Maude: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office for how long records of visitors to the Downing Street/Cabinet Office complex are retained."Ahh yes, but Dizzy!" I hear you say, "Tessa Jowell referred to an answer on the 4th February not at column 508W but rather her response of the same day at column 877W. You've got the wrong answer Dizzy old chap!"
Tessa Jowell: Records of visitors to the Downing street/Cabinet Office are currently retained for a maximum period of 10 years for operational/security purposes.
Perhaps, but what is at "column 877W" on the 4th February 2010? The answer? Nothing. You see, column 877W is actually a question from Peter Luff to Shahid Malik about Fire Services in the West Midlands and it didn't happen until the 9th February 2010.
So this time round, we not only have a Cabinet Office minister referring someone to a question that she answered that is completely different to the new question, but we have a Cabinet Office minister referring someone to a question answered by someone else in a completely different department.