Select Committee on Treasury Seventh Report



    We are grateful to all who have made an input to this inquiry. As all of the 2002 departmental reports have now been published, we thought that this would be an appropriate time to make an interim report. We shall seek the views of Committees on the new reports, and on the information provided, in the autumn, and expect to make a further report in time to inform the production of the 2003 departmental reports (paragraph 8).


    On the evidence we have received, it is unlikely that departments will generally be able for some time to lay audited resource accounts before Parliament in the autumn after the end of the financial year. This knocks a major hole in the Government's revised strategy for financial reporting to Parliament. We look to the Government to ensure that full outturn information is made available in the autumn, and look forward to hearing how it proposes to do this in the period until its original objective of laying audited resource accounts in the autumn can be achieved (paragraph 13).


    We are also concerned at the excessive delays that occurred in publishing some of the 2000-01 resource accounts, given that the documents must be complete before they are laid before Parliament. We do not regard the formal act of laying[40] as an adequate way of informing the House of the content of these documents. The public has a right to prompt publication after laying. We expect to see a marked reduction in publication delays with the 2001-02 resource accounts and look to the Treasury to take steps to achieve this (paragraph 14).


    We believe that there are good practical arguments for responsibility for publication of Estimates to return to the Treasury and that reverting to this earlier practice may act to strengthen Parliamentary control. We note from the comments of Chairmen of other departmental committees that the previous practice of providing them with drafts in advance appears, in respect of the 2001-02 Estimates, to have been honoured more in breach than observance. We recommend that this practice is restored, and that as much advance notice as possible is given to Committees, particularly of Supplementary and Revised Estimates, in order that those can be scrutinised properly before they are voted on by the House (paragraph 17).


    We note the suggestion that Estimates might in future be published electronically, with Committees being given printed versions of those relevant to them. We are not convinced that the House as a whole is ready to accept this development (paragraph 19).


    We recognise the contribution made to consideration of the Main Estimates in particular by material in the Departmental Report. We therefore recommend that all departmental reports are published well before the House is asked to vote on the Main Estimates (paragraph 18).


    One of the factors on which we will base our judgement of the success of the new arrangement is whether it improves Committees' monitoring of departments' levels of success in meeting PSA targets. In this context we note the work that is in hand to improve the transparency of performance reporting, and its validity (paragraph 20).


    While we welcome the fact that Departmental Reports have a wide readership, and provide useful reference points for departments, we look to departments not to lose sight of their primary function, which is to report to Parliament (paragraph 21).


    We support the idea of greater accessibility of departmental reports through the Internet, but not at the expense of producing a non-electronic version. We agree with the Chief Secretary that it is important to retain the paper version (paragraph 24).


    We welcome the Chief Secretary's assurances about the content of the new style reports, and that there will be no overall loss of comparative information.[41] The latter point is of considerable importance to departmental committees seeking to form a view of trends. We reiterate the point made by the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee that, besides information being given on a comparable basis in year, it needs to be capable of reconciliation with previous years' data (paragraph 26).


    With the decision of the House of 14 May to invite the Liaison Committee to establish common objectives for select committees, and the subsequent issue by the Liaison Committee of guidance to departmental select committees on objectives and core tasks, the departmental report is likely to assume greater prominence in committees' work. We shall therefore be seeking the views of departmental committees on the 2002 departmental reports and on whether any improvements are needed in future years. We shall look closely at the new autumn material, and invite committees to give a view on this also in due course (paragraph 27).

40   This involves Departments delivering two copies of the document concerned, which must be complete but need not be in the final form in which it will be published, to the Journal Office. These copies are subsequently sent to the Library. Such delivery, which is formally recorded in the Votes and Proceedings, discharges any statutory obligation to lay the document before the House. Back

41   QQ145-6 Back

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