Last week, the Liberal Democrat MP, Bob Russell tabled a motion about the increasing frequency with which questions get transferred to other departments to answer. Being a nerd who reads Hansard I have to say I agree that it does seem to happen an awful lot, and usually the question is not answered on transfer at all. Take for example this question from Tory MP Andrew Tyrie to the Home Secretary which was transferred and "answered" by Ed Balls at the Treasury on Friday.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many terrorist investigations have been assisted following the introduction of the money laundering regulations 2003.That is a total non-answer to the "how many" and what's more, it simply states that there are money laundering regulations which clearly Andrew Tyrie already knew as he mentioned them in his question.
Ed Balls: I have been asked to reply.
Financial investigation is a fundamental part of all counter-terrorist investigations. The Money Laundering Regulations 2003 place a number of requirements on the regulated sector, such as to identify their customers and hold customer records, and to have in place other procedures which in turn support the reporting of suspicious activity, which have proved valuable in the wider terrorist effort.
What is the point of having a questioning system where questions are routinely, and quite clearly, deliberately not answered? The only conclusion that one can draw from the above response is that the money laundering regulations haven't had an impact on terrorist investigations.
Saying so though might lead the Government into having to admit that an initiative has failed, and that would create a bad headline. But let's be honest, wouldn't people prefer a Government that said "you know what, we thought this would help, but actually it hasn't" compared to one that obsfucates reality?