SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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