Select Committee on International Development First Special Report



15. A table containing a list of the Committee's Reports to date, with information on when the Report was published and when the Government response was received, is attached to this Report. As is clear from the Table, there is considerable room for improvement in the timeliness of Government responses. The response to the Sixth Report, Session 1999-2000, on The Export Credits Guarantee Department — Developmental Issues was delayed with the agreement of the Committee. The Committee's Report was a contribution to the consultation accompanying the Review of the Mission and Status of ECGD. Thus the response was delayed so as to coincide with the publication of the findings of the Review. By contrast, the response to the Committee's Fourth Report, Session 1998-99, on Debt Relief and the Cologne G8 Summit was delayed through a departmental oversight. The response was produced only in response to inquiries made by Committee staff. It should be noted that for responses which fall due over the summer recess the Department is told that the deadline can be extended to a week before the return of the House. More generally, the Committee is happy to allow a short period of delay if it means that the quality of the response can be significantly improved by, for example, the provision of further and up-to-date information.

16. The Clerks of the Committee always telephone DFID officials a couple of weeks in advance of the 60-day deadline to remind the Department that the response is due. They are usually told that the response is in hand but often warned that it might be late. One difficulty is the fact that the Secretary of State might well be out of the country when the response is ready for her consideration. A further problem cited is the need to consult with a number of other government departments and get their agreement to the terms of the response. A large proportion of our Reports cover the responsibilities of a number of government departments. It is thus inevitable that the production of a response takes longer and the Committee has been understanding. Nevertheless, we suspect that the Department could do more to identify at an early stage the fact that the agreement of the response may be time-consuming and then plan accordingly.

17. One issue that has concerned the Committee has been the timeliness of the publication of the Government's Annual Reports on Strategic Export Controls. Four Committees — Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry — have conducted joint inquiries into these reports and into Government policy on strategic export controls. Delays in the publication of the Annual Reports have, on occasion, caused problems for the Committees. The first Annual Report was published in May, 17 months after the end of the period to which it relates; the second report in November 1999, more than 10 months after the end of the year to which it relates; the third report was published in July 2000, seven months after the period in question. In the course of the Committees' inquiry into the 1998 Annual Report, the Committees were only provided with copies of the report less than two hours before they was due to take evidence on it from the Foreign Secretary. There have also been considerable delays in the Government's responses to the Committees' Reports. The Government response to the Committees' first Report[6] was not published until July 2000, more than five months after the Committees' Report was published and three months overdue. The response to the second Report[7] was published on 8 December 2000, again five months later and three months overdue. Whilst the delays may well, to some extent, be explained by the fact that the Government has to coordinate its response across a number of departments, a delay of three months seems quite excessive.

6   Annual Reports for 1997 and 1998 on Strategic Export Controls: Response of the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Trade and Industry, July 2000 (Cm 4799) Back

7   Strategic Export Controls: Further Report and Parliamentary Prior Scrutiny: Response of the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Trade and Industry, December 2000 (Cm 4872) Back

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Prepared 24 January 2001