THE Tory government is using a loophole in parliamentary rules to avoid answering questions, a Labour MP has alleged.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg was facing questions at Westminster’s procedure committee on Monday when the issue came up.

The committee was asking about the disproportionate cost threshold (DCT) and how it is calculated.

DCT refers to an advisory cost limit above which a government department can refuse to answer a Parliamentary Question. It currently stands at £850.

Rees-Mogg said this was a reasonable cost as it was a “good week’s work from a junior civil servant”.

READ MORE: 'Bring your own booze' to No 10 party mid-lockdown, leaked email tells staff

SNP MP Owen Thompson and Labour MP Kevan Jones quizzed the top Tory on the issue, with Jones saying he had asked questions of both the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence and been told answering them would be too expensive.

“I’ve asked the same questions a year ago and got an answer,” he said. “Lo and behold now, because there’s new ministers, this [DCT] is being used.”

Jones (below) suggested that there had been a clear “increase” in the practice and that some departments were using the rule to “avoid” scrutiny. Thompson could be seen to nod in agreement as he spoke.

The National:

Asked if the Treasury had shared with him the formula for calculating the cost of answering a parliamentary question, Rees-Mogg said he did not have the methodology but that he assumed it must exist as “you’ve got to have some means of working out what the cost is, you can’t just invent it”.

He said that the “key is are members questions by and large being answered or are lots of questions getting the disproportionate cost and therefore accountability is declining”.

“I think the result is more important than the process,” he said.

The committee hearing also looked at proxy voting and whether to extend the practice to allow more MPs to vote remotely.

Rees-Mogg expressed concerns about the idea, saying some members could use it for “trivial reasons”.

He also claimed that it would be too difficult to decide who had a genuine medical reason for using a proxy, and who had a slight injury.

READ MORE: Tory MP James Gray apologises for joke about sending 'bomb' to Labour MP

Tory MP James Gray said: “I've fallen off my horse hunting in Wiltshire and slightly sprained my ankle. I ring up and say I’m awfully sorry I’m not going to make it.”

“This is where it gets so difficult,” Rees-Mogg responded. “The definitions become hard and the policing of definitions even harder.”

Last week, SNP MP Amy Callaghan wrote to the Tory MP urging him to bring back proxy voting and virtual participation for those with long-term health conditions.

“At an earlier stage in the pandemic, parliament proved that it was perfectly capable of operating with hybrid participation and proxy voting. The decision to revoke it represented a backward step for inclusivity and for the modernisation of this parliament,” Callaghan wrote.

“The weeks prior to the Christmas recess saw many Members and staff on the estate contracting Covid or being asked to isolate as contacts.

“For any member, but particularly so for those who are unwell, clinically vulnerable or carers, this is exclusionary and causing constituents across the UK to be disenfranchised.

“It is not the time for the Government to dig its heels in on this matter.”

The chair of the Procedure Committee, Tory MP Karen Bradley, could not attend Monday’s session as she was self-isolating.

Chris Elmore, the Labour MP for Ogmore, chaired the meeting in her place.