THE WORK OF THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
TIMELINESS OF GOVERNMENT RESPONSES
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
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
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
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